The Playfulness of the Market: Reading Hayek in the Light of Huizinga

In an appendix to The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, F.A. Hayek says, “The practices that led to the formation of the spontaneous order have much in common with rules observed in playing a game. To attempt to trace the origin of competition in play would lead us too far astray, but we can learn much from the masterly and revealing analysis of the role of play in the evolution of culture by the historian Johan Huizinga, whose work has been insufficiently appreciated by students of human order.”

In Homo Ludens: A Study of The Play Element of Culture, Huizinga argues that “civilization is rooted in noble play and that, if it is to unfold in full dignity and style, it cannot afford to neglect the play-element.” He discusses the play-element in human activities including: art, language, poetry, sport, law, and war. And he helpfully provides a thorough criteria for what constitutes real play. Play is “voluntary activity,” “disinterested activity,” “creates order, is order,” “has rules,” and so on.

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Learning to Kneel: Etty Hillesum and Simone Weil as Examples of Openness to Reality

Etty Hillesum and Simone Weil can help our understanding of political science through their accounts of participatory experience of the full amplitude of reality. Their reflections on their everyday experiences attest to the truthfulness of Eric Voegelin’s political science. Specifically, they raise the question: Once we open ourselves to the “ultimate purpose toward which we are rationally oriented,” then what? How is human openness to transcendence made manifest in our daily living? Through the diaries and letters of Hillesum and Weil, we can understand the meaning of participation in living within those questions that one cannot ask without some change taking place in the soul of the questioner. Voegelin symbolized these experiences as the opening of the soul to transcendence. This involves the recognition that man is not the source of his existence, so he cannot be the ultimate measure of it. Such insights are not propositional or axiomatic, but are experienced through paradoxical and meditative participation in the turning of the soul toward truth. This is also the fundamental experience of a political theorist who can then begin to analyze society against the standard of divine truth rooted in the nature of the relationship man experiences in his response to God.

I presented this paper at the American Political Science Association annual conference in August 2014. To listen to it, click here:

The Coherence of Biography and Philosophy: Hans Jonas’s Philosophical Biology in the Light of his Personal Memoirs

My senior thesis was just posted on VoegelinView.com.

VoegelinView

The topic is the relationship between a person’s biography and his or her philosophy. I studied this by reading a particular thinker’s memoirs and relating these to his philosophical writings to show the coherence between his experiences and his insights.

Feel free to take a peek, here.

Satan! Dangerous Person! Neo-Liberal!

Tonight I attended a “Catholic Media Ethics” talk at my church. This was my comment and question during Q&A:

Using abstract nouns like “society”, “community”, and “humanity” seems to disregard the important fact that, in reality, there isn’t some perfect consensus; individual persons are divided on every single political, economic, social, and moral question. Do you think there is a ‘media party’ with a consistent ideological bias because of the idea that there is (or can be) a homogenous, social consensus on things when no “shared story of collective humanity” actually exists?

The speaker (from The Catholic Register) shouted, “Satan!!!” and pointed at me while stepping back to distance himself from me. Then he said, “You are a dangerous person. You are giving us an individualistic, neo-liberal view that I don’t think is at all compatible with the Christian concept of community.”

An audience member said with outrage, “Just like Margaret Thatcher!”

The speaker then argued that the neo-liberal view is mainly an economic one and that its adherents have the wrong anthropology.

“What if the ‘neo-liberal’ anthropology is actually quite truthful and ‘Catholic’? I mused.

He said, “Try to make the case sometime.” Then he noted Father Raymond de Souza as an example of a ‘right wing’ Catholic who gets published in The Register.

Nice to have one token conservative.

Given how relevant economics and politics is to our lives, shouldn’t we be able to discuss these controversial topics in the light of faith and from a plurality of perspectives?

I think this is why Father Sirico founded the Acton Institute. And I’m thankful he did. Acton University is the first place I ever learned the term “philosophical anthropology.” Michael Matheson Miller told us that JPII had said, “The fundamental problem of socialism is anthropological in nature.” What he meant is that socialists give an incorrect account of the human person.

That experience at ActonU was one of the most illuminating and memorable moments of my life and has influenced me personally, academically, and professionally. Who we are and what it fundamentally means to be human persons is a debate that is, of course, not “settled.”

I don’t think that all my fellow Catholics and, more broadly, fellow citizens should think like me. I do hope though that we would be able to think about things together without excommunication from the conversation on the basis of different political and economic perspectives.

It’s the Creed that’s universal among a particular faith community.

Is it not some form of idolatry then to elevate policy opinions (and, dare I add, social doctrine) to the status of dogma?

Beer and Bureaucracy, Churches and Chocolate, Waffles and Western Civilization

After two years of graduate studies at the university, I felt that I did not have a sufficiently good education to merit the degree of Doctor in Philosophy. I confided my worries to one of the professors, who said: “What would you like to have in education?” I said: “I should like to know two things—first, what the modern world is thinking about; second, how to answer the errors of modern philosophy in the light of the philosophy of St. Thomas.” He said: “You will never get it here, but you will get it at the University of Louvain in Belgium.
                                     — Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay  

ISI Summer Seminar at Samford in Alabama

ISI Summer Seminar at Samford in Alabama

I arrived to the Brussels airport on Sunday morning. From there, I found my way to the train and purchased a ticket to Leuven where I would meet my friend Dan, who is studying there, and who I met at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute First Principles seminar this past summer at Samford University in Alabama. At the closing picnic, he and I had struck up a conversation, along with Vinny, who was studying at Leuven with Dan, too. We hit it off quickly discussing existentialism, phenomenology, and mysticism. They both encouraged me to consider studying at Leuven and to, at the very least, visit. So the seeds planted during that one conversation in Alabama were now bearing fruit in Belgium.

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The Ridiculous Woman: A Public Intellectual Parallels Dostoevsky’s “Ridiculous Man’s” Ability to Love

Capacities to Act and to Love

Recently, Marina Nemat gave participants at Acton University an account of her experiences as a political prisoner in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. After an idyllic upbringing in a generally free society, everything changed when Nemat was arrested by Islamists at age sixteen. These perpetrators captured, interrogated, and tortured her relentlessly – almost to the point of death. When men beat the soles of her feet with cables, she wanted to die and says that she would have sold her soul to the devil in order to escape the pain. This thought perpetuated her agony because she was a Catholic who sensed in this moment that she was not fit to be a martyr. Arguing firmly that the purpose of torture is not to gain information nor punish, she insists the true purpose of torture is the destruction of the soul.  Eventually, Nemat was forced to “marry” one of her torturers. She went to his mother’s house and was warmly welcomed by his mother who showed her great hospitality.  Nemat wondered to herself: how can this woman be the mother of a torturer? Soon, this mother told her that her son had been the victim of even more severe torture. This marked a turning point at which Nemat says, “I realized then that he had been tortured – just like me. And I didn’t like that part because it made me recognize that he was a human being.” Briefly she considered revenge, perplexed by the possibility that someone can be the torturer today and the tortured tomorrow. But ultimately she conquered both this appetite for revenge and her desire to be placed in solitary confinement. Instead, Nemat chose to discover how to reaffirm her dignity in spite of the circumstances that made this seem impossible.
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Poem: Only the gods are wise

Only the gods are wise
The living imitations we ought not idolize
Refracted lights that shine quite dim
Emptiness overflows unto the brim

Seeking hungrily new knowledge
We eagerly provide a stage
The crowd is quickly hushed
So to listen to some sage

But the guru has no answers
And leaves no lasting impression
What was long anticipated
Becomes hardly worth a mention

What then is this philosophizing for?
We seem not to get too far
All these public intellectuals
And their speeches seem bizarre

Only the gods are wise
And our philosophizing is mere play
We must decide to live the questions;
They are not going away.

Amanda Achtman
May 4, 2013
Vancouver, BC 

Alberta PCs: Some Party That I Used to Know

Alberta PCs: Some Party That I Used To Know
CALGARY, ALBERTA (APRIL 11, 2013)

Today marks the launch of the YouTube “Alberta PCs: Some Party That I Used To Know.” This video is a grassroots effort and is not affiliated with any political party.

Check out the video and share it with your friends and network and share your comments.

For more information and to support further related projects, please contact me at amanda.achtman@gmail.com

From the grassroots and for ordered liberty,
Amanda

Reading Week Part 2: The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

This evening I finished reading José Ortega y Gasset’s book The Revolt of the Masses.
Soon, I intend to write more reflectively on what I have read, but for now, here are my favorite quotations from this exceptional book:

“The masses, suddenly, have made themselves visible, and have installed themselves in the preferred places of society. In the past, the mass, where it existed, went unnoticed. It was a background to the social scene, to the stage of society. Now it has advanced to the footlights, and plays the part of the leading character. There are no longer protagonists as such: there is only the chorus.”

“The characteristic note of our time is the dire truth that the mediocre soul, the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be mediocre, has the gall to assert its right to mediocrity, and goes to impose itself wherever it can. […] The mass crushes everything different, everything outstanding, excellent, individual, select, and choice.”

“The very name is alarming: that a century should call itself “modern,” that is, ultimate, definitive, compared to which all others are merely preterite, humble preparations aspiring to the present!”

“We live at a time which feels itself magnificently capable of any realization, but does not know what to realize. Lord of all things, man is not master of himself. He feels lost in his own abundance. Equipped with more means, more knowledge, more technique than ever, the world today proceeds as did the worst and most unfortunate of all former worlds: it simply drifts.”

“It is false to say, therefore, that in life ‘circumstances decide.’ On the contrary, circumstances are the dilemma, always new, constantly renewed, in the face of which we must make decisions. And it is our character which decides.”

“I do not believe in the absolute determinism of history. On the contrary, I believe that all life, including historical life, is composed of purely momentary instances, each relatively undetermined as far as the previous moment is concerned, so that in each of them reality hesitates, vacilates, marks time, runs in place, paws the ground, and is uncertain of which possibility to choose. This metaphysical wavering, this humming uncertainty, makes everything alive seem to vibrate tremulously.”

“The primary, radical meaning of the word life is made clear when it is used in the sense of biography and not of biology. And this is true for the very good reason that any biology, in the end, is only a chapter in certain biographies, whatever biologists do in the course of their biography. Any other notion is abstraction, fantasy, myth.”

“The world is civilized, but the inhabitant is not: he does not even see its civilization, but uses it as if it were a part of nature. The new man wants his automobile, and enjoys using it, but he thinks it is the spontaneous fruit of some Eden-like tree. His mind does not encompass the artificial, almost unreal nature of civilization, and the enthusiasm he feels for its instruments does not include the principles which make them possible.”

“Philosophy needs no protection, nor attention, nor sympathy, nor interest on the part of the masses. Its perfect uselessness protects it.”

“But the specialist cannot be subsumed under either of these two categories. He is not learned, for his is formally ignorant of all that does not fit into his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, for his is ‘a man of science,’ a scientist, and he knows his own sliver of the universe quite well. We shall have to call him a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, for it means that he will act in all areas in which he is ignorant, not like an ignorant man, but with all the airs of one who is learned in his own special line.”

“For philosophy to rule, it is not necessary that philosophers be rulers (as Plato first wanted) nor even that rulers philosophize (as he more modestly wished later). Both courses would prove fatal. For philosophy to rule it suffices that it exist, that is, that philosophers be philosophers. For over a century now, philosophers have been everything but philosophers: they have been politicians, pedagogues, professors, men of letters, and men of science.”

“Moreover, the mass-man sees in the state an anonymous power, and since he feels himself to be anonymous too, he believes that the state is something of his own. When conflict or crisis occurs in public life, the mass-man will tend to look to the state to assume the burden, take on the problem, take charge directly of solving the matter with its unusurpable means.”

“And this is the greatest danger threatening civilization today: the statification of life, state intervention, the taking over by the state of all social spontaneity. […] The mass tells itself: ‘The state is me,’ it’s own version of L’État, c’est moi. […] The contemporary state and the mass are only the same in being anonymous.”

“Without commandments obliging us to live in certain fashions, our lives become purely arbitrary, they become ‘expendable.'”

“Surely, the best that can humanely be said of any institution is that it should be reformed, for that implies that it is indispensable and that it  is capable of new life.”

“Such is the state. It is not a thing, but a movement.”

“If the state be a project for common action, its reality it purely dynamic: it is a doing, something to be done, the community in action.”

“But the same thing happens if the mass-soul decides to act the revolutionary: the apparent enthusiasm for the manual worker, for the afflicted, for social justice, serves as a mask to disguise the rejection of all obligations – such as courtesy, truth-telling, and, above all, respect for and just estimation of the superior individual.”

“This evasion of all obligation explains in part the phenomenon, half ridiculous and half disgraceful, of the promulgation of the platform of “Youth,” of youth per se. Perhaps our times offer no spectacle more grotesque. Almost comically, people call themselves “young,” because they have been told that youth has more rights than obligations, since the fulfillment of obligations can be postponed until the Greek calends of maturity. Youth has always considered itself exempt from doing or already having done great deeds or feats. It has always lived on credit. This has always been understood as being in the nature of humanity, a kind of feigned right, half ironic and half affectionate, conceded to their juniors by the no-longer young.”

“For morality is always and essentially a feeling of subordination and submission to something, a consciousness to obligation and service. […] Morality cannot be simply ignored. Amorality – a word which lacks even a proper construction – does not exist. If one wants to avoid submitting to any norm , one must, nolens volens, submit to the norm of denying all morality. And that is not amorality, but immorality. It constitutes a negative morality which conserves the empty form of the other morality.”

“The Anonymous Passive”

This evening I attended the first annual Frank Eyck Memorial Lecture in German History at the University of Calgary. Guest lecturer Dr. Christopher Browning from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill spoke on the topic: “Why Did They Kill? Revisiting the Holocaust Perpetrators.” From the lecture, there is one concept that stands out specifically in my mind. According to this site: “When the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, [the north-western German city] Bremen’s police force did not hesitate to side with them. Their decision to collaborate turned civil servants into mass murderers.” Browning told us that a reserve policeman from Bremen who served as the company photographer wrote letters to his wife that have survived and are being studied. For accuracy, I will quote from Browning’s paper on which he based his presentation:

One month later, after reporting on latest packages sent home, he [the Bremen reservist] noted explicitly: “Here all Jews are being shot. Everywhere such actions are underway. Yesterday night 150 Jews from this place were shot, men, women, children, all killed. The Jews are being totally exterminated.” He advised his wife not to think about it—”it must be”—and for the moment to “say nothing about it” to their eldest daughter. Significantly, he wrote in the “anonymous passive” voice—omitting any identification of the actors–so pervasive in postwar accounts but here employed even during the war.

The phrase “the anonymous passive” and Browning’s explanation of it using this example struck me as quite relevant to my recent reflection on the tendency of international relations theorists and international political economists especially to personify non-persons and to dehumanize actual persons so that action is carelessly assigned to non-actors and moral responsibility cannot be properly designated.  “Theorists’ use of abstractions, often involving calling non-persons ‘actors’, leads to a deflection of responsibility. The problem is that you and I are not sure where to direct our moral judgment… either praise or blame.”

Browning’s student Patrick Tobin elaborates on this point in his Master’s Thesis on the second largest Nazi crimes trials after the Nuremberg Trials. He says:

Those interviewed by and large played a difficult balancing game, trying to come across as helpful and open, while reluctant to provide any self-incriminating statements. When confronted with the information about the massacre in Garsden, most acknowledged that this occurred, but made self-exculpatory statements along the lines of “I did not see these things with my own eyes.” Similarly, they tended to speak of the shooting in what Christopher Browning has termed the “anonymous passive,” noting the crimes but omitting the criminals: “After the first group had been shot, the next ten people were led to the grave… In the end, they themselves were shot just as their predecessors.”

Dehumanization is often cited as one of the key tactics of genocidaires. (By the way, this French word for ‘those who commit genocide’ was coined after the genocide in Rwanda and I think we ought to have an English equivalent that is more precise than ‘perpetrator.’) Dehumanization is defined by Browning as the “ability to construct a world in which those whom the perpetrators had killed were not within community of human obligation, but rather totally devalued.”

Using theories, models, paradigms, abstractions, and other “constructs” distract from “the community of human obligation.” Valuing human persons requires a personalist and human action approach to politics. Also, international politics is about more than necessity. Constructing a system of the world according to what is possible rather than according to what is responsible leads to immoral consequences.