Oct 232009

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 6, “Kant Versus America” — a reference to the fundamental opposition between core American ideals and German ideological imports. Topics we discussed included:
  • German metaphysical idealism coming to America via the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson et. al — an eclectic “literary” version of German romanticism. Then decades of Hegel’s purified Kantianism dominating American philosophy departments.
  • How some advocates of these ideas were open and clear about their rejection of reason for emotion/intuition/will, while others took the tack of presenting themselves as champions of rationality even while undercutting every essential element of it.
  • How advocates of the American system of rights and capitalism tried to find ideological support in classical economics and evolutionary biology — and how this was ultimately a doomed effort because these are not philosophically fundamental. Mill, Smith, Say, and the rest of the classical economists tried to defend an individualist system while accepting the fundamental moral ideas of its opponents (altruism, collectivism). And on the biological evolution front, Herbert Spencer tried and failed to defend capitalism while adhering to more fundamental ideas which clash with it (advocating a species-based collectivist approach that would be inspiration for Eugenicists, and thinking evolution would eventually eliminate egoism in favor of altruism in humans).
  • What Pragmatism is and how it became the main American manifestation of the Kantian trend.
  • Why Pragmatists adopt codes of values and political ideas designed by others (non-pragmatists), usually without consciously acknowledging this, through cultural osmosis.
  • How Pragmatism was the only 20th century philosophy to gain broad, national acceptance in America (and how this happened through Orwellian twists of meaning and language to sell it to an audience who would otherwise recoil). How it enjoyed a disastrous acceleration by taking over the educational system (Dewey), its prevalence in politics, etc.
  • How academic philosophy then all but disappeared in America — as the “dead end” of the Kantian dichotomy between thought and reality, with the public rightly rejecting the field of philosophy as worthless (even though they nonetheless remained powerfully influenced by philosophy).
  • And a lot more…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha