Holger Danske

Holger Danske

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    The Long View: The Duty to Know

    Bl. Pope John Paul II was a prolific writer of encyclicals over his 28 year papacy. Fides et Ratio is one of my favorites of his. What John Paul is suggesting here is a way to put all the pieces of the Western mind back together again. John Reilly felt this kind of project was inevitable in late modernity, and indeed the evidence is everywhere. This is what links After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, Consilience by E. O. Wilson, A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram, and Francis Fukayama's End of History. This is also precisely the value I find in Thomism, a useful way to order the mind in light of the complexity of reality.

    However, coverage of in America of Catholicism in general and the papacy in particular has been frozen in amber at least since Humane Vitae. It is not hard to find someone arguing that the Catholic Church will loosen up once the next pope comes along, and bless contraception, or women priests, or any number of other things that will in fact never happen. We've had two popes since John Paul II, and the stability of Catholic doctrine continues to defy expectations [for some].

    This is unfortunate, since John Paul's message was in fact somewhat radical, and an inability to take the argument as presented meant many missed it.

    "[I]n the light of faith which finds in Jesus Christ this ultimate meaning, I cannot but encourage philosophers-be they Christian or not-to trust in the power of human reason and not to set themselves goals that are too modest in their philosophizing. The lesson of history in this millennium now drawing to a close shows that this is the path to follow: it is necessary not to abandon the passion for ultimate truth, the eagerness to search for it or the audacity to forge new paths in the search. It is faith which stirs reason to move beyond all isolation and willingly to run risks so that it may attain whatever is beautiful, good and true. Faith thus becomes the convinced and convincing advocate of reason."

    John Paul was saying the floodgates of reason are wide open, and we ought to follow reason where it leads. One of John Paul's favorite saying was "Be not afraid!". He was not afraid of where reason would take us.

    The Duty to Know

    by John J. Reilly

    John Paul II deserves better enemies. When his encyclical, "Fides et Ratio," was released in the middle of October, 1998, the document was indeed front page news, but many commentators seemed to have trouble fitting it into their usual script for what this papacy is supposed to be about. While the prestige media outlets, such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, did report that "Fides et Ratio" treated of the compatibility of faith and reason, they used the publication of the encyclical primarily as an occasion to trot out the usual Catholic-liberal authorities. These sources (Fr. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame comes particularly to mind) then repeated their familiar complaints about the pope's authoritarianism in general and his refusal to modify traditional Catholic sexual ethics in particular. The unquestioned assumption was that John Paul's papacy is an essentially reactionary episode, whose doctrinal statements will inevitably be drowned out by the irresistible current of modernity when his reign ends.

    This analysis represents a profound failure of imagination. Whatever else "Fides et Ratio" may be, it is not a reactionary document. Rather, it is nothing less than a project for the reconstruction of the Western mind after modernity (or after "postmodernity," if you prefer). For several centuries, the intellectual life of Christendom has been a process of analysis. It has taken apart the unity that anciently linked metaphysics, ethics, social relations and the natural sciences. The result was a historical explosion that has been both miraculously beneficial and catastrophic without precedent. What "Fides et Ratio" proposes is a way of putting the cooling shrapnel of the Enlightenment explosion back together.

    Such a project is hardly unique these days. Advanced physics is greatly occupied with ideas for a "final theory" that would, among other things, unify particle physics and cosmology. Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man" proclaimed some years ago that democratic liberalism was the final state of political theory. More recently, Edward O. Wilson, in his book "Consilience," outlined a new unity of knowledge to be based on an expansive interpretation of sociobiology. In "Fides et Ratio," an even more ambitious unity is proposed, one that would include not just natural knowledge but philosophy, metaphysics and even elements of the supernatural.



    The Long View: Critique of Pure Reason

    All modern philosophy is a footnote to Kant [or perhaps to Descartes], as all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Kant is deservedly considered a great philosopher. Charles Murray puts him at number 3 in the list of the 100 most eminent philosophers. However, Kant is unusual among philosophers in having a major element of his philosophy refuted by later experimentation. Sure, sure, I hear you reciting examples of things Aristotle got wrong, like gravity. Nothing important in Aristotle's physics has been refuted. If anything, it is experiencing a resurgence. Kant's natural philosophy is radically at odds with quantum mechanics and general relativity alike.

    However, the real thrust of Kant's philosophy was ethics, and this is were Kant retains enormous influence.

    Kant's solution to the question of the origin of moral obligation was wonderfully ingenious, though historically catastrophic. In effect, his guiding question is not, "What would Jesus do?" but "What would I do if I were God?"

    The modern turn in Kant's philosophy was to make the will the font of morality. Much later mischief has come of this.

    Critique of Pure Reason
    by Immanuel Kant
    First Edition 1781; Second Edition 1787
    Translation by F. Max Müller (1881)
    Anchor Doubleday Paper Edition 1966
    543 Pages, $1.95

    "Immanuel admitted, as a speculative truth, that there were such things as dreams, and that he conceivably dreamed himself: but then he had a complex proof (which John never quite grasped) that no one could possibly remember a dream..." C.S. Lewis The Pilgrim's Regress Page 132

    All modern philosophy is a footnote to this book by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), professor of the University of Königsberg and, by some accounts, the most boring man who ever lived. If we hold up the "Critique" to a light, we can see all kinds of creatures in embryo: Hegel's historicism, Marx's dialectical materialism, Nietzsche's Triumph of the Will, as well as such later hatchlings as Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, and Mathematical Intuitionism. There is even, perhaps, a hint of the feral supernatural that we see in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, which is a very late product of New England Transcendentalism. Kant's Transcendental Idealism is one of the great philosophies, fruitful even when it is wrong. Such systems are never simply refuted. Nonetheless, looking at the Critique from the beginning of the 21st century, it is clear that Kant was too pessimistic about the possible scope of human knowledge. It is also clear that, oddly enough, he had nothing to say about the real limits of pure reason.

    The problem with writing about Kant is that the inherent difficulties of his philosophy are in no way mitigated by its appalling exposition. Maybe the old translation I used was more Germanic than necessary, but Kant has been blamed for inaugurating the tradition of philosophical bad prose. Kant was in fact capable of lucid writing; he even had a sense of humor. Nonetheless, the "Critique of Pure Reason," the most important of his books, is full of sentences like this: "But is it really necessary that, if effects are phenomena, the causality of their cause, which cause itself is phenomenal, could be nothing but empirical; or is it not possible, although for every phenomenal effect a connection with its cause, according to the laws of empirical causality, is certainly required, that empirical causality itself could nevertheless, without breaking in the least its connection with the natural causes, represent an effect of a non-empirical and intelligible causality, that is, of a caused action, original in respect to phenomena, and in so far not phenomenal: but, with respect to this faculty, intelligible, although, as a link in the chain of nature, to be regarded as entirely belonging to the world of sense?" (Page 372)



    CrossFit 2014-04-01


    • 23 deadlifts [95#]
    • 23 handstand pushups [1 abmat]
    • 23 back squats no rack
    • 23 burpees
    • 23 ground to overhead

    Time 19:23


    CrossFit 2014-03-31

    2000m row

    Time 8:33

    Max height box jump

    Height 41"


    The Long View: A Republic not an Empire

    I don't think I have a one-word summary for John's foreign policy preferences. Maybe someone who disliked him could come up with something pejorative, but I don't feel the need. I do know that John didn't have any time for isolationists of any stripe. American foreign policy [and public opinion for that matter] has always had an isolationist element. This was enshrined in our national imagination by George Washington's Farewell Address. John had none of it. He argued that foreign policy always needed to take into account the state of the world, and the contemporary world required us to be far more active [dare I say interventional] than the nineteenth century did in order to secure even domestic peace and prosperity.

    Later, John would make the argument that post-Cold War America served as the security utility of the world, in the same way AT&T served as the telephone utility in America for most of the twentieth century. No matter how much people complain about American hegemony, they [mostly] still expect us to maintain the stability of the global political order. I've sometimes wondered about the price America extracts for being the world's policeman. In a sense, we really do this out of a sense of justice and obligation. On the other hand, US Treasury bonds are purchased by much of the world, and we use the money to spend almost as much for defense than the rest of the world combined. The full faith and credit of the United States government means something much more than just our willingness to service our monetary debt.

    A Republic, Not an Empire:
    Reclaiming America's Destiny

    by Patrick J. Buchanan
    Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999
    437 pages, $29.95 US
    ISBN 0-89526-272-X


    Patrick J. Buchanan, noted political commentator and perennial candidate for president, here explains his plan for restructuring the international system in the 21st century. The scale of the proposal puts it among the most radical ever propounded by an American engaged in serious electoral politics on a national level. Essentially, the book envisions the deliberate reconstruction of a multipolar world. Though the author does not note the fact, this world would be like that of about 1900, with a slightly different cast of major actors. For instance, Japan and Germany would be remilitarized and returned to their "traditional" roles as "guardians" of East Asia and Eastern Europe, respectively. The Middle East would be left to settle its own affairs, while the rest of the world broadened its energy resource-base in such a way as to end the dependence of the developed countries on petroleum from that region. Most of the multilateral institutions created during the Cold War would be either abolished or greatly diminished. The security commitments of the United States would be loosened to consultative relationships, except perhaps for a few countries in North America itself. The most substantial differences that Buchanan proposes from the world of 1900 are the militarization of the US-Mexican border and the annexation of Greenland and anglophone Canada.

    Why anyone would want to set up the world for a replay of the 20th century will probably seem mysterious to most people, but it is clear enough why Patrick Buchanan would want to do so. In his opinion, the US flubbed the 20th century, while it handled the 19th century almost exactly right. Even the Cold War, of which the author approves, was made necessary only by the departure of the US from its traditional principles by intervening in the First and Second World Wars. The implication seems to be that, having done the last century wrong, we should do it again, but this time do it right.



    CrossFit 2014-03-26

    800m run x 3

    Times 3:51, 4:04, 4:10


    CrossFit 2014-03-25



    • Deadlift 165#
    • Benchpress 95#
    • Clean 95#

    Time 36:59


    The Long View 2002-02-02: Scary Babies

    One of John's favorite themes was how slowly intellectual history moved in the twentieth century. In Spengler's Future, he said this:

    Even when literature and art leave a conspicuous mark, however, modernity everywhere is fundamentally a time when ever more brilliant people seem to produce less and less of substance. As the period progresses, its art grows more and more-self-conscious until it disappears into technique. It is the time of Wagner rather than Bach in the West, of Legalism rather than the Mandate of Heaven in China. It is also the great age of reactionaries of all stripes, of traditionalists rather than tradition. Many modern political systems which are supposed to embody ancient principles are in fact faked antiques.

    One of the remarkable aspects of modern times, considering the amount of energy and creativity expended during the period, is how little of its vast cultural output survives. Science survives since it takes up relatively little space (for better or worse: the facts of one civilization often don't stand up to examination by a later one). But the plastic and pictorial arts, the prose that critics come to blows over and the poetry that briefly seemed to change the world, all this is often known to later ages only through secondary sources. The originals may be destroyed or suppressed in the terrible final stages of the modern era. More often, they are simply lost or neglected as taste changes. As a rule, the more early-modern a thing is, the greater its hope of longevity. Works like those of Dickens survived (with occasional slumps and survivals), while almost none of the modernist Western canon was equipped to outlive the critical apparatus which called it into being. This is the era of experiments. In the nature of the case, they usually fail.

    The battle lines over contraception, abortion, and all manner of reproductive technology haven't really changed much in 50 years. John's post still seems pretty topical after 12 years, which tells me the supposed advances of technology haven't done much for the arguments here. I don't think the problem is technology hasn't advanced much. I think the problem is our understanding hasn't advanced much.

    Here, John also hits on one of the biggest issues with all manner of reproductive technology: it costs too much to really affect the raising of children very much. There are thorny issues to deal with in law and moral philosophy, but the majority of children will continue to be made the old fashioned way for reasons of cost:

    Scary Babies


    There was a picture of one of these on the cover of The Weekly Standard of February 4, 2002. As you might expect, the theme of the issue was biotechnology and its implications for the suddenly problematical human condition. The prospect of reproductive human cloning is only the beginning of evils, it would seem. I have some scattered observations about the two pieces in the issue on the subject.

    "Kass Warfare," by Andrew Ferguson, was about the first public session of the President's Council on Bioethics, which is headed by the bioethicist Leon Kass. The rest of the council consists of jurists, philosophers and a gaggle of scientists. The session stared with a discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1846 short story, "The Birthmark." That's the one about the scientist who tries to cure his otherwise perfect wife's single tiny blemish and kills her in the process.

    The liberal-arts types on the council reached for an interpretation of this story as an allegory of the principle that the attempt to perfect humanity destroys humanity. The math-science geeks were offended by the fact that Hawthorne plainly did not know what scientists did or why they did it. Actually, the best interpretation of the story may be rather technical. Writing in the heyday of New England Transcendentalism, Hawthorne may have simply been trying to illustrate the Kantian notion that absolutes are noumenal rather than phenomenal. That is, we never experience perfection or any pure condition. Such ideals should guide our actions, but we will never see them realized.

    The article emphasized the insufficiency of the Yuck Factor, meaning the visceral reaction that people usually have to ideas like cloning when they are first proposed. The Yuck Factor is not a historical constant, Ferguson notes. The laws against miscegenation were backed largely by an inarticulate distaste for the idea of congress between the races. The laws disappeared when the distaste did. The Council on Bioethics is supposed to map out principled arguments about what we should and should not do that will stand scrutiny even when emotions change.

    I would add that biotechnology often brings something else into play, what might be called the Pet Shop Factor. This refers to the Monty Python sketch in which John Cleese goes to a pet shop to buy a fish, but finds that the shop has only dogs. The shop owner offers to turn a puppy into a fish by vivisection. Cleese agrees, but only on condition that he can watch. It is possible to be greedy of wonders. Quite aside from whether it is a good idea to tinker with fundamental human biology, there is still the raw curiosity about whether it is really possible.




    CrossFit 2014-03-24



    • 10 push press [83#]
    • 10 kettlebell swings [1.5pd]
    • 10 box jumps [24"]

    Rounds 5 +15 reps


    The Long View: The Turner Diaries

    Like Imperium, The Turner Diaries are a mainstay of the lunatic fringe. It is also a classic millennial text. I have never read this book, and I have no intention to. However, John read and reviewed it because the millennial impulse can and does break out in the real world, and we ought to know how bad it can get.

    The Turner Diaries
    by "Andrew MacDonald" (William L. Pierce)
    The National Alliance, 1978
    Approx. 80,000 words

    WARNING TO THE READER: This is the most repulsive book I have ever reviewed. Persons offended by descriptions of virulent racism and of the advocacy of genocide may not wish to continue reading.

    Bibliographical Note

    According to Michael Barkun in Religion and the Racist Right (p. 225 et seq.), the author of "The Turner Diaries" is one William L. Pierce, writing under the pseudonym "Andrew MacDonald." Pierce received a doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado and worked in industry and as a university instructor before becoming involved with Nazi groups in the 1960s. "The Turner Diaries" appeared from 1975 to 1978 as a serial in "Attack!," a publication of the National Alliance, an American Nazi faction led by Pierce. ("Attack" [Der Angriff] was also the name of the paper Josef Goebbels founded in Berlin in the 1920s.) The book was first published as a paperback in 1978, and Barkun cites a second edition, also published by the National Alliance (Washington, DC 1980). The text for this review was found online, without copyright, at http://members.tripod.com/~EdgarS/TurnerD/turner.html in December 1997.

    "The Turner Diaries" has been around for about 20 years at this writing. This work has long been of some interest to students of religious and political cults. What made it famous, however, was the destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. (The date was apparently chosen to commemorate the destruction of the compound of the Branch Davidian sect at Waco, Texas, precisely two years earlier.) The crime was committed with a truck bomb using ammonium nitrate fertilizer as an explosive, a weapon system described in some detail in this book. While there is no reason to believe that the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing were working directly from the historical script set out in "The Turner Diaries," nevertheless the book is well-known in the circles with which they associated. Echoes of names and incidents in the story, such as the racist insurgent group known as the "Order" that appeared in the 1980s, continue to turn up from time to time.

    The book purports to have been published in the year 100 of the New Era, which is apparently about AD 2100. In form, the book is a commemorative edition of the diaries of one Earl Turner, a 35 year-old electrical engineer who became a hero of the Great Revolution that preceded the New Era. The diaries cover Turner's activities as an insurgent from 1991 to his death in 1993. The revolution was orchestrated by a guerrilla army known simply as "the Organization." (Its opponents are normally referred to collectively as "the System.") The heart of the Organization was a quasi-religious group known as "the Order," into which Turner is inducted. We learn almost nothing about the governance or history of these bodies, though the Order seems to be inspired by the Templar-model of the SS sometimes favored by Heinrich Himmler, under the apparent influence of the apostate Austrian monk Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. (See "The Occult Roots of Nazism" by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, New York University Press, 1992) For that matter, there is no systematic exposition of the beliefs of either the Organization or the Order. The diaries are supposed to provide a ground level view of a great event, interspersed with occasional reflections.

    Before proceeding to an analysis, it would be helpful to look at a full chronology of the dates and events named in the text. The story is built around a system of commemorative dates. The major events of the Great Revolution are almost all timed to coincide with such anniversaries as Hitler's ascension to the Chancellorship of Germany (January 30), Hitler's birthday (April 20) and, especially, the Beer Hall Putsch and Kristallnacht (November 9). Some of these dates, as well as the sophisticated weapons the author describes, may unfortunately have relevance in the future.