Sunday, February 21, 2010

Maybe it's all about Kant
Tom Smith

I can't really stand to read Tom Friedman and other US progressives any more because I find them so tediously predictable.  Ann Althouse gets it pretty much right.  I think it can be put more simply.  Progressives, the sincere among them anyway, really want to do great things, but they don't know how.  They yearn to accomplish wonderful change, but they just don't have the technology.  They want it so very much, so very, very much I guess we're supposed to love them for it.  Me, if I want to help but can't because I don't know how, I say, sorry, I would if I could but I can't.  Lack of any working theory or pragmatic if undertheorized ability to improve things, however, appears to be no impediment to the progressive desire to exercise power in the hope, I guess, to make things better.  The Obama presidency seems absolutely saturated in this spirit of groundless hope, as if meaning well is what really matters.  Hence my blaming Kant, the moral philosopher who, to simplify greatly, thought morality was all about meaning well.

Now it seems we are about to enact a health care something or other that will have effects nobody can possibly predict beyond saying they will probably be profound, terrifically expensive and there is no reason to expect positive.  It seems driven on the most basic level by a combination of high industrial politics, big companies maneuvering to cement their positions in our bizarre semi-socialized health care system, and soaring political egos that yearn to be thought of as historical and magnificently beneficial to those of us these people would not deign to dine with.  I hate being caught up in the ambitions of people who are so transparently shallow and unable to comprehend the fact that some problems are beyond the ability of any group of people to just up and solve, let alone people who cannot bring themselves to utter a simple honest sentence in public.  What did I ever do to them?  What is it with this undertaking of grandiose projects that must be failures?  Why not something smaller that has a chance of success?  The fate of many people who are just trying to live their lives is caught up in the furious psychodramas of other people who feel driven to be powerful.  Obama's mother or whoever it is that geared him up this way may has a lot to answer for.  But of course, the only people who end up answering for the great adventures our rulers want to make of their lives are the little players in their plays. So I guess they don't even really mean well, but they sure want to appear to do so, on the grandest scale.

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Tom Smith
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Comments

I'm skeptical that Tom Friedman is properly thought of as a "progressive". I'm not really sure what makes one a progressive, but among people that I sometimes read who self-identify as such, Friedman is thought to be an idiot and a fool. (See Matt Yglesias as an example of someone who identifies as a "progressive" and strongly dislikes Friedman. Yglesias seems fairly typical in this.) And, Friedman's views have pretty much always been a mixture of neo-liberal and conventional wisdom mixed liberally with banality and BS. He's terrible, I certainly agree, but since most "progressives" also think he's terrible I don't think it's fair to tar them with Friedman's sins.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 21, 2010 6:18:31 PM

I endorse what the other guy named Matt said -- Tom Friedman is a fool and liberals and conservatives alike can agree on this. Please see the Tom Friedman section of my book!

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Feb 21, 2010 7:19:47 PM

Please let's not use this as an occasion to smear the great Immanuel Kant. Leave that weak shit for the Ayn Randers.

Posted by: M | Feb 21, 2010 8:44:34 PM

Never mind the labels. The main point is that our educated elites are dominated by self-absorbed control freaks who have the chutzpa to think themselves justified to tell other people how to live and the stupidity to think themselves competent to do so (to paraphrase Adam Smith).

Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 21, 2010 10:46:27 PM

"Hence my blaming Kant, the moral philosopher who, to simplify greatly, thought morality was all about meaning well."

I should say something about this, too, because it's a common enough paraphrase of Kant, it's also a huge distortion. It takes the right point that Kant thought that the only thing that was good in itself was the good will and makes two wrong steps, neither of which Kant makes. First, that meaning well is sufficient for doing what one should, and secondly that results are not of moral importance. Neither one of these follows from Kant's claim and he doesn't hold the views. This cartoon version of Kant is what you get if you never get past the first book of the Groundwork, but even the whole Groundwork is only the first bit of Kant's ethics. So, this isn't even to "simplify greatly", but to falsify and rather seriously distort Kant's views.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 22, 2010 6:28:45 AM

But in a typical "progressive" moral relativist mindset, what else can there be but individual good intentions?

Without absolutes, it falls to individuals to decide what is and isn't, and what's "right" or "wrong", etc.

Posted by: km | Feb 22, 2010 8:38:57 AM

OK OK I take it back w/r/t Kant. I certainly agree he was a great philosopher and evidently there's a strong case to be made that even Hayek was a (neo)Kantian. I was engaging in a cheap, sloppy rhetorical device. My quarrel is with those who think that the important thing is to try to do good, and not with the concrete consequences of one's actions. Heck, maybe Hegel is more the villain, since in the US especially progressives were deeply influenced by German historicism thinking. I did say *maybe* it was Kant's fault, BTW, indicating I was not sure whom to blame.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Feb 22, 2010 9:36:46 AM

I know several people who idenitfy themselves as "progressives" as they all hate Friedman.

Posted by: Johnny | Feb 22, 2010 11:15:24 AM