The Fallacies of Moralism
and Moral Aestheticism

(after Friedrich Schiller, Leonard Nelson, Camille Paglia, & Robert Hughes)

The Fallacy of Moralism

To imagine that the gratifying of any sense, or the indulging of any delicacy in meat, drink, or apparel, is of itself a vice can never enter into a head that is not disordered by the frenzies of enthusiasm.... These indulgences are only vices when they are pursued at the expense of some virtue, as liberality or charity; in like manner as they are follies when for them a man ruins his fortune and reduces himself to want and beggary. Where they entrench upon no virtue but leave ample subject whence to provide for friends, family, and every proper object of generosity or compassion, they are entirely innocent.

David Hume, "Of Refinement in the Arts," Essays on Economics [University of Wisconsin Press, 1970, quoted by Virginia Postrel, The Substance of Style, How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, HarperCollins, 2003, p.171]

Bust of Schiller, Central Park, New York City
In der Kantischen Moralphilosophie is die Idee der Pflicht mit einer Härte vorgetragen, die alle Grazien davon zurückschreckt, und einen schwachen Verstand leicht versuchen könnte, auf dem Wege einer finstern und mönchischen Ascetik die moralische Vollkommenheit zu suchen.

In Kant's moral philosophy, the idea of duty is presented with a severity that it repels all graces and might tempt a weak intellect to seek moral perfection by taking the path of a somber and monkish asceticism.

Friedrich Schiller, Über Anmuth und Würde, "On Grace and Dignity," Schiller's "On Grace and Dignity" in Its Cultural Context, Essays and a New Translation, Edited by Jane V. Curran and Christophe Fricker [Camden House, 2005, pp.150,200]

Living a good life means realizing those excellences in our lives as best we can. Put another way, we are under a moral obligation [!] to do our best to realize the best that human beings can be. To neglect that obligation is to waste our lives.

Charles Murray, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life [Crown Business, 2014, p.105, color added], noteworthy as Aristotelian moralism.

At one time, capitalism appeared horrifying because it produced misery; later, it turned out to be horrifying because it produces such abundance that it kills culture.

Neo-Marxists deplore what is called 'consumerism,' or the 'consumerist society.' In our civilization there are indeed many alarming and deplorable phenomena associated with the growth of consumption. The point is, however, that what we know as the alternative to this civilization is incomparably worse.

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), "What is Left of Socialism?" Is God Happy? Selected Essays [Basic Books, 2013, pp.66-67]

A few years ago, when I was talking to a group of students, one of them asked why I teach the books I do, and I replied simply that they are among the greatest ever written. Later one of my colleagues told me she experienced the thrill one hears when a taboo is broken, because it has been orthodoxy among literature professors for some three decades that there is no such thing as "great literature." There are only things called great literature because hegemonic forces of oppression have mystified us into believing in objective greatness, whereas intrinsically Shakespeare is no different from a laundry list or any other document. If this sounds exaggerated, let me cite the most commonly taught anthology among literature professors, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Its editors paraphrase a key tenet of the dominant movement called "cultural studies," which has set the critical agenda:

Literary texts, like other artworks, are neither more nor less important than any other cultural artifact or practice. Keeping the emphasis on how cultural meanings are produced, circulated, and consumed, the investigator will focus on art or literature insofar as such works connect with broader social factors, not because they possess some intrinsic interest of special aesthetic values.

In other words, what used to be called masterpieces are worthy of study only insofar as they fit into a liberationist [i.e. totalitarian] program, and no further. If elements of popular entertainment illustrate social forces better than Pope or Proust do, then they should (and sometimes do) constitute the curriculum. The language of "production, circulation, and consumption" [i.e. Marxism] is designed to remind us that art is an industrial product like any other and supports the rule of capital no less, and perhaps more insidiously, than the futures market.

Gary Saul Morson, "Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature," Commentary, July/August, 2015 [p.26, color added], perfect definitions of anaesthetic political moralism.

Sugar is poison.

Mika Brzezinski, "Morning Joe," MSNBC, 12 Mar 2013

The fallacy of moralism (adj. "moralistic") results from the generalization of moral imperatives and obligations into all of ethics, or at least into issues that are not properly of moral concern, what we could call "partial" moralism. Leonard Nelson defines moralism in this way:

Ich verstehe unter Moralismus eine zur positiven Regelung des Lebens hinreichende Normierung durch sittliche Prinzipien. Der Moralismus schließt, mit anderen Worten, die Möglichkeit sittlich indifferenter Handlungen aus. Nach ihm müßte jede Handlung eindeutig entweder als Pflichterfüllung oder als Pflichverletzung bestimmt sein. Er würder also für andere als aus dem Sittengesetz fließende Anforderungen keinen Spielraum lassen. ["Ethik," System der philosophischen Ethik und Pädagogik, Felix Meiner Verlag Hamburg, 1932, 1970, p.107]

I understand "moralism" to mean a system of normative moral principles sufficient for the positive regulation of life. In other words, moralism excludes the possibility of morally indifferent actions. According to it, every action must be characterized as either fulfillment or violation of duty. Thus no room would be left for norms other than those deriving from the moral law. [System of Ethics, translated by Norbert Guterman, Yale University Press, 1956, p. 89; translation modified]

Note well: Moralism is not the same thing as morality; it is a fallacy, one of having "too much" morality. The word "moralism" therefore should not be used without the consciousness that it is a mistake. There will be various forms of moralism discussed below, and all of them are fallacies. Also note: a "moralist" is merely someone with a moral theory, not necessarily a moralistic one; nevertheless, the subtlety of distinguishing morality from ideal ethics means that serious moralists tend to moralism in general, e.g. Confucius, Kant, Utilitarianism, G.E. Moore, religious commandments, etc. Moralism is the denial that there are other categories of value besides morality -- in other words, the denial of the polynomic theory of value.

ETHICS=MORALITY[Aesthetics, the beautiful and the ugly] The truly beautiful is what is morally good.
MORALITY[Ideal or Euergetic Ethics] The good is what is morally good.
Morality, right and wrong: The only real form of value, all other forms of value are derivative and subordinate.
Imperatives -- commands

Graphic Version of Table.

In the fallacy of moralism, the paradigm of obligation and duty comes to dominate ethics. All ethical goods are morally absolutized. Non-moral goods and aesthetic goods are completely devalued because they are apart from what is morally right. The aesthetic dignity of individuals -- the variety of their personal character, preferences, and self-fulfillment -- is lost; and all ethical or aesthetic rules are transformed by the moralistic advocate into moral obligations rigorously imposed on everyone and everything.

Moralistic theories can be deontological or teleological; but any teleological theory with real moral obligation (i.e. that is not morally aesthetic) will be moralistic, since an obligation to realize non-moral ends intrinsically moralizes ideal ethics. Nevertheless deontological theories are more typical of moralism, since they can simply ignore consequences as irrelevant and locate all of ethics in moral principles.

The differentiation of ethics into morality and ideal, or euergetic, ethics goes back to the great German poet, playwright, and scholar Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), the immortal author of the Ode to Joy, the poem that Ludwig van Beethoven included in the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony. Leonard Nelson's account of Schiller's modification of Kantian ethics also includes an important discussion of moralism:

It is usually said that Schiller's contribution to ethics was to mitigate the rigorism of Kant. The precise contrary is the truth. One way to summarize Schiller's contribution to the development of ethics would be to say that he was the first to free moral rigorism from that association with moralism which had previously been the rule in ethics -- thereby making it possible, as it had not really been before, to establish the validity of moral rigorism in its true significance.

...[Rigorism's] real meaning is that the moral law is strictly valid, without any exceptions....

Moral rigorism is, howevever, quite difference from the moralism of Kantian ethics, i.e. its peculiarity of admitting no other principle of evaluation, for judging an action, than the law of morality. Only by eliminating this moralism could moral rigorism acquire its full purity and strength, which it did not achive even in Kant's own work. As long as it was confused with moralism it was bound to seem harsh and one-sided, appearing to imply the exclusion from ethics of any aesethetic ideal of life. [Leonard Nelson, Progress and Regress in Philosophy (originally Fortschritte und Rückschritte der Philosophie) Vol. II, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1971, p. 34]

Μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε τὸν κόσμον μηδὲ τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ.
ἐάν τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον, οὐκ ἔστιν ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρὸς ἐν αὐτῷ·
ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ,
ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν
καὶ ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου,
οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ πατρός, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἐστιν.
καὶ ὁ κόσμος παράγεται καὶ ἐπιθυμία αὐτοῦ,
ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

Nolite diligere mundum neque ea quae in mundo sunt.
Si quis diligit mundum non est caritas Patris in eo.
Quoniam omne quod est in mundo -- concupiscentia carnis et concupiscentia oculorum est et superbia vitae --
quae non est ex Patre sed ex mundo est.
Et mundus transit et concupiscentia eius,
qui autem facit voluntatem Dei manet in aeternum.

Do not love the world or the things in the world.
If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes
and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world.
And the world passes away, and the lust of it;
but he who does the will of God abides for ever.

1 John 2:15-17,
for ἐπιθυμία, see

My parents belonged to a Puritan religious group and disapproved of pleasure. To keep up with pop music, I had to stand outside a nearby trucker's cafe to listen to the jukebox. I loved Buddy Holly's "It Doesn't Matter Any More." I still do.

Ken Follett, "The Home Where Fun Fell Short," The Wall Street Journal, "Mansion," September 7, 2018, p.M4

Anaesthesia and Anhedonia

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), "A Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros," 1880; Getty Center Museum
Moralism tends to abolish the aesthetic paradigm (the mode of value outside of ethics) outright through anaesthesia [adj. "anaesthetic"], the denial of beauty and aesthetic value (not, in this case, the loss of consciousness due to drugs), and anhedonia
[adj. "anhedonic"], the inability to experience pleasure or the moral condemnation of pleasure.

I had heard the term "anaesthetic" earlier, but in this instance I take it directly from Robert Hughes (1938-2012), the Australian art critic and historian. In the Culture of Complaint [Oxford University Press, 1993], Hughes says:

...the abiding traits of American victim art are posturing and ineptitude. In the performances of Karen Finley and Holly Hughes you get the extreme of what can go wrong with art-as-politics -- the belief that mere expressiveness is enough; that I become an artist by showing you my warm guts and defying you to reject them. You don't like my guts? You and Jesse Helms, fella. [note]

The claims of this stuff are infantile. I have demands, I have needs. Why have you not gratified them? The "you" allows no differentiation, and the self-righteousness of the "I" is deeply anaesthetic [sic]. One would be glad of some sign of awareness of the nuance that distinguishes art from slogans. [p.186-187]

As it happens, the term actually goes back to Aristotle, who says:

Men erring on the side of deficiency as regards pleasures [ἡδονάς, hêdonás], and taking less than a proper amount of enjoyment [χαίροντες, khaírontes, "enjoying"] in them, scarcely occur; for such insensibility (ἀναισθησία, anaisthêsía] is not human (ἀνθρωπική, anthrôpiké]. [Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, xi, 7, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1926-1982, pp.180-183].

Here "anaesthesia" is closer in meaning to modern "anesthesia" and in this usage to "anhedonia," as below. Since "aesthetic" now tends to refer to art and beauty, the sense now (as in Hughes) is for "anaesthesia" to be an insensibility to art and beauty. Aristotle, viewing such a thing as inhuman and rare, evidently did not anticipate the ideologies and religious and political systems that would be actively hostile to personal pleasures and enjoyments. The religious phenomenon is Mediaeval, the political, Modern.

Anhedonia was the original title of Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar Winning movie Annie Hall. By the end of the movie Diane Keaton accuses Allen of not being able to enjoy life enough, and he answers that he can't as long as someone, somewhere is suffering.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
"The Blond Bather," La Baigneuse Blonde, 1882; the favorite painting of Kenneth Clark, in his own personal collection, although he finally needed the money and had to sell it; Renoir later married the model, Aline Charigot.
Anhedonia sounds like the famous definition of Puritanism by H.L. Mencken:  "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy" [A Book of Burlesques, 1916]. Both anaesthesia and anhedonia, which collectively we might just call "Puritanism," occur because beauty and pleasure are polynomicly independent of moral evaluation: beauty and pleasure may then be seen as intrinsically immoral forms of evaluation and therefore, for a moralistic system, merely moral evils, not independent forms of evaluation.

Since beauty or pleasure occur independently of moral worth, they can be seen in the first place as undeserved, since they are not distributed as appropriate moral rewards, and in the second place as oppressive, since they misdirect us from the "true," i.e. the moral, evaluation and so burden us with adverse judgments and concerns, for ourselves and others (e.g. that we or you are ugly), that morally we shouldn't have to deal with. To say that beauty might be both undeserved and oppressive (i.e. both good and bad, a reward and a punishment) seems self-contradictory, but it is not an uncommon form of judgment.

Oscar Wilde condemns this, in his own way, by saying, "Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault" [The Picture of Dorian Gray, Preface]. Anhedonia implies the severity and humorlessness typical of moralism even in the ordinary use of the word "moralistic." The denial of anaesthesia is aestheticism proper (as opposed to moral aestheticism, described below):  that aesthetic value, the evaluation of the beautiful and the ugly, is independent of moral, religious, or political evaluation.

Camille Paglia gives us, in passing, a definition of aestheticism:

It [the novel Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Théophile Gautier] incorporates letters, narrative, dramatic dialogue, even an essay -- the infamous preface, first manifesto of aestheticism. Gautier attacks bourgeois values and asserts art has neither social utility nor moral content. Beauty alone is art's mission. [Sexual Personae, p. 409]

Oscar Wilde, in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray again, says, "They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty"; and he gives us the most succinct characterization of aestheticism: "All art is quite useless."

Kant and Schopenhauer on Music

Immanuel Kant, with a moralistic system of ethics, discounts the value of aesthetics into a mere "harmony of the faculties." As is actually rather common in philosophy, Kant's treatment of aesthetics looks like an afterthought, relegated to the Critique of Judgment [1790, 1793], the Third Critique in Kant's philosophical system -- although even this is greater dignity for the subject than we usually get [note].

Kant's views may be the most strikingly contrasted with those of Arthur Schopenhauer -- a philosopher who not only gave aesthetics an essential place in his system, in Book Three of The World as Will and Representation -- before the treatment of morality and religion in Book Four -- but attributed to aesthetic value a reality and a central position in human life that is almost unique in the history of philosophy. Indeed, this would really only be trumped by Nietzsche, who may be said to have retained Schopenhauer as a starting point, while dropping all the moral and religious considerations of Book Four.

A striking case concerns music, which the moralist often has found disturbing. Even Plato, whose theory involves a strong aesthetic realism (derived from his own theory of the Forms but also from the Pythagorean influence in his thought) and who appreciated the power of music, feared that power and wished to contain it within the strongest moral and political controls. With Kant, however, we get the sense that he is led to trivialize music, not just because of his lack of aesthetic realism, but also because he didn't quite understand its power and was not in fact personally moved by it. Schopenhauer, more like what we might expect from a German philosopher of his era, saw music not only as the ultimate form of art but as an expression of realities to which mere concepts are inadequate.

Kant says:

If, on the other hand, we estimate the worth of the beautiful arts [den Wert der schönen Künste] by the culture they supply to the mind and take as a standard the expansion of the faculties which must concur in the judgment for cognition, music will have the lowest place [den untersten Platz] among them (as it has perhaps the highest among those arts which are valued for their pleasantness [Annehmlichkeit]), because it merely plays [spielt] with sensation. The formative arts [bildenden Künste, i.e. "plastic" arts] are far before it in this point of view, for in putting the imagination in a free play, which is also accordant with the understanding, they at the same time carry on a serious business [Geschäft]... These two species of art take quite different courses; the first [i.e. music] proceeds from sensations to indeterminate ideas [Ideen], the second from determinate ideas to sensations. The latter produce permanent, and former only transitory impressions. The imagination can recall the one and entertain itself pleasantly therewith; but the other [i.e. music] either vanish entirely, or, if they are recalled involuntarily by the imagination, they are rather wearisome [lästig] than pleasant [angenehm]. [Critique of Judgment, translated by J.H. Bernard, Hafner Publishing Co., 1968, p.174, boldface added]

One wonders to what kind of music Kant has been listening if its recollection is "wearisome" rather than pleasant. But even at its best, Kant appears to take music as no more than "pleasant," with its origin, as in all art, trivialized as a matter of "play." While his point may be well taken that a "play" of the imagination in some sense is required for art, we lose the important distinction between truly playful art and music and the forms of each that become serious.

While Kant allows that the plastic (and presumably some performing) arts can rise to a "serious business," he explicitly disallows this to music -- which leaves me to play with a scene in my imagination of someone like Beethoven giving Kant a lesson in the seriousness of music -- the Fifth Symphony is about as playful as a thunderstorm. Kant had died [1804] before the first performance of the Third Symphony [1805]; and, of course, it is not clear how long one might have waited before seeing a performance in Königsberg [note].

Yet in Kant's own day, one did not need Beethoven to derive similarly "permanent impressions" from Bach, Hayden, or Mozart. Mozart's 40th Symphony (in G minor, 1788) equals Beethoven in majesty. Nor can Kant have heard Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (rediscovered in 1833) -- one of the greatest, and now certainly most familiar, pieces of organ music ever written.

In general, Kant's sense of music seems consistent with the light, playful, pastel Rococo aesthetic of his time, with the Baroque weight and seriousness of Bach forgotten. Kant's attitude may be contrasted with the judgment of Kenneth Clark, that "From Bach to Mozart, music expressed the deepest thoughts and feelings of the time, just as painting had done in the early 16th century." But Kant did not think music expressed any thoughts, and he seems immune to any deep feelings from it.

Kant has missed something there -- at the very least the dimension of the sublime in music, even though the young Kant himself wrote a book about the beautiful and the sublime -- and we know why. Kant sees the aesthetic, and particularly music, as superficial, and all his descriptions reinforce this. Only concepts, which can reach to serious, i.e. moral, concerns, carry us to any higher reality, to anything germane to the ultimate nature of things or of meaning.

We have nothing like the beauty of Plato's Forms here, of which any earthly beauty reminds us. In fact, music for Kant falls into a group of obviously trivial pursuits -- the "play of fortune" [Glücksspiel], i.e. gambling, the "play of tone" [Tonspiel], i.e. music, and the "play of thought" [Gedankenspiel], i.e. wit and jokes [ibid., p.176]. This gives us a possible context for Kant's own imaginative vision:  gamblers joking and jesting, with some kind of baudy music or song in the background -- something similar to the drunken and disorderly "Midnight Modern Conversation" by Hogarth, below. But it is worse than that. Kant expresses an annoyance with music and then gives us his own example:

Besides, there attaches to music a certain want of urbanity from the fact that, chiefly from the character of its instruments, it extends its influence further than is desired (in the neighborhood), and so as it were obtrudes itself and does violence to the freedom of others who are not of the musical company. The arts which appeal to the eyes do not do this, for we need only turn our eyes away if we wish to avoid being impressed. [ibid., p.174]

What on earth is Kant talking about? Was he troubled by boom boxes on the subway or neighbors with their stereos on high? But these things didn't exist in his day; and any complaint about music as a performing art in general might as well apply to the stage, which certainly obtrudes itself on its neighborhood as much as any musical performance -- or is as similarly inoffensive from an indoor venue in an otherwise noisy commercial or entertainment district. This sounds like Kant's irritation at something in his own neighborhood, which turns out to be the case, as we learn from a footnote to this very passage:

Those who recommend the singing of spiritual songs at family prayers do not consider that they inflict a great hardship upon the public by such noisy (and therefore in general pharisaical [pharisäische]) devotions, for they force the neighbors either to sing with them or to abandon their meditations. [ibid., note, pp. 174-175, boldface added]

Thus we discover that Kant was annoyed, not by drunken gamblers, but by hymns, whose character is faulted, not merely for disturbing Kant's "meditations" [Gedankengeschäft], but for the moral fault of being "pharisaical," i.e. the doing of Pharisees whose valorization of the empty forms of ritual was condemned by Jesus. But it is an extraordinary reflection to regard singing as equivalent to an empty ritual. For me, it is hard to listen to the arrangement by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) of Luther's hymn, Erhalt’ uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, "Save us, Lord, by your Word," without thinking of the most sublime moments in Beethoven.

One wonders what bothered Kant more, the actual level of sound (in the days before electronic amplification, let alone reproduction) or the character of what he was hearing. In fact, it looks like it was not so much "family" [häuslich] observances that particularly bothered Kant but the services held for the prisoners at the jail next to which he lived, and about which he complained to the burgomaster [cf. ibid. editor's note, p.175]. Well, we might regard him as lucky if natural voice hymns were all that troubled him in the neighborhood of the jail.

This reveals a number of peculiar things about Kant. The triviality of music is not just of a piece with the "play" of gamblers and jokers but of the quite serious practice of religion, where song in the Protestant North of Europe had replaced the plastic arts that were thoroughly destroyed by Lutherans and Calvinists -- evidence of whose iconoclasm still disfigures old German churches. Does this mean that Kant would look more favorably upon the art of a Catholic church? Something tells me probably not.

Music in Kant's estimation is not merely trivial, but its character in a religious context is positively offensive and improper -- in which he was not alone in a Calvinist tradition. To a kind of sour anaesthesia about music (without the intense religious consciousness even of Calvinism), we therefore must add to Kant's faults an idiosyncratic version of the sort of religious anhedonia that I will examine further below. In any case, Kant's example is entirely irrelevant. The disturbance of the neighborhood by music, sports, domestic disputes, barking dogs, car alarms, home remodeling, or the indoor pistol practice of Sherlock Holmes has nothing to do with the independent value of these activities; and Kant's irritation with his neighbors (or with popular religion) has improperly obtruded into the philosophical analysis of aesthetic value. The lack of "urbanity" is not in the music; it is in the neighbors -- if not in Kant himself.

Turning from Kant to Schopenhauer, we find a very different wind blowing. Where Kant believes that our relationship to ultimate meaning and value among things-in-themselves is mediated by the concepts of the Moral Law, Schopenhauer believes that the thing-in-itself is the Will, which is a blind force and drive, in a virtually Darwinian sense, for existence and survival.

As Schopenhauer says in his discussion of music, "The (Platonic) Ideas are the adequate objectification of the will" [The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, §52, E.F.J. Payne translation, Dover Publications, 1966, p.257]. In other words, Schopenahuer thinks that the "Ideas" [Ideen] represent the Will as the kinds of objects found in the phenomenal world.
Laurent de La Hyre (1606-1656), Allegory of Music, 1649, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;
one of the seven Liberal Arts

While Kant's notion of "Ideas" is that they are the concepts that arise from our attempts to conceive of transcendent objects (e.g. God, freedom, & immortality), Schopenhauer's "Ideas" are more intuitive and concrete, like (as he says) Plato's, and in their generality they embody aesthetic value. Schopenhauer's aesthetic realism is thus found in his own theory of these "Ideas."

Discussing the notion of Leibniz that music is a kind of unconscious mathematics, Schopenhauer says,

But if it were nothing more, the satisfaction afforded by it would inevitably be similar to that which we feel when a sum in arithmetic comes out right, and could not be that profound pleasure with which we see the deepest recesses of our nature find expression. Therefore, from our standpoint, where the aesthetic effect is the thing we have in mind, we must attribute to music a far more serious and profound significance that refers to the innermost being of the world and of our own self. [ibid., p.256, boldface added]

How different is the impression we get in comparison to Kant. Nothing trivial, pleasant, superficial, or playful about this. Schopenhauer has been hearing a very different kind of music from Kant, a sublime music, as though he has detected Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the distance, while Kant is quarreling with neighbors whose children are playing a record of "It's a Small World After All" over and over again. To Schopenhauer, music has the highest, not the lowest, place in comparison to the other arts:

Hence all of them [i.e. the other arts] objectify the will only indirectly, in other words, by means of the Ideas., since it passes over the Ideas, is also quite independent of the phenomenal world, positively ignores it, and, to a certain extent, could still exist even if there were no world at all, which cannot be said of the other arts. Thus music is as immediate an objectification and copy of the whole will as the world itself is, indeed as the Ideas are... Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. [ibid., p.257, boldface added]

Music as sound does not need space (although stereo is nice), and as a phenomenon of time exists in a kind of abstract space, like Leibniz's mathematics, apart from the space of the world. Yet it is also concrete, is not a matter of concepts, and expresses something much more:  "Hence it has always been said that music is the language of feeling and of passion, just as words are the language of reason" [p.259, boldface added]. Schopenhauer quotes a question from Aristotle:

διὰ τί οἱ ῥυθμοὶ καὶ τὰ μέλη, φωνὴ οὖσα, ἤθεσιν ἔοικε;

Cur numeri musici et mode, quot voces sunt, moribus similes sese exhibent?

How is it that rhythms and melodies, although only sound, resemble states of the soul? [p.260, Probelemata c.19, Greek and Latin in Schopenhauer; ἤθεσιν dative plural of ἤθος, ἤθεος, "disposition, character, manners" -- mores in Latin; ἔοικε, "it seems," from ἔοικα, perfect of εἴκω, "yield, give way"]

Schopenhauer answers that music directly expresses the essential being of all that we are. "The composer reveals the innermost nature of the world, and expresses the profoundest wisdom in a language that his reasoning faculty does not understand" [p.260].
Johann Strauss II (1825-1899) monument, Stadtpark, Vienna, 2018

Therefore music does not express this or that particular and definite pleasure, this or that affliction, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, meriment, or peace of mind, but joy, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without any accessories... [p.261]

Here we see something apparent to Schopenhauer to which Kant seems postively blind (or deaf), that music covers the entire spectrum of emotion. The good composer can take any human experience and write music to accompany it:

This close relation that music has to the true nature of all things can also explain the fact that, when music suitable to any scene, action, event, or environment is played, it seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning, and appears to be the most accurate and distinct commentary on it. [p.262]

One thing Schopenhauer has in mind is the use of music in opera; but today, of course, one of the most expressive uses of music is in film, providing one of the most haunting and memorable features of the best of movies. Indeed, this throws into perspective the nature of much of avant-garde modern music, whose atonal and dissonant nature is of a piece with the abandonment of beauty in the modern plastic arts. What would a composer use such music for in a movie? Ah, I know:  insanity. Discordant and dissociated music goes with the discordant and dissociated mind -- or with the Nihilism of trendy "Theory." Schopenhauer was lucky not to live to hear Stockhausen [note].

The metaphysics of music Schopenhauer sums up in a version of scholastic formulae, "the concepts are the universalia post rem, but music gives the universalia ante rem, and reality the universalia in re" [p.263, boldface added]. Thus, we get the concepts of universals by reflecting on the things of experience, while reality is the embodiment of those universals. But music, giving us the Will itself, is ontologically prior to phenomenal reality.

Schopenhauer's aesthetic realism thus leads to just about the strongest valorization of art and music in the history of philosophy, while in Kant, as we might expect from his moralism, we get forms of anaesthesia and anhedonia that range from the trivialization of music and annoyance at hearing it to moral condemnation of the "pharisaical" hymns. Yet even Kant is a positive aesthete compared to the attitudes that I will examine next.

Transfixed by Music

“The Earl of Oxford March”

Religious and Political Moralism

Anaesthesia and anhedonia most easily occur in systems of religious or political moralism, where all valuation and obligation are bent towards religious or political ends, no independent forms of evaluation can be allowed, and any purposes apart from the religiously or politically worthy are frivolous, reprehensible, or evil. While religious moralism is familiar from much of history, and political moralism since at least the French Revolution, the 20th century provided terrifying examples of both.

A good example of anhedonic religious moralism can be found with the Ayatollāh Khomeini of Irān. Khomeini never smiled in public, and he was finally asked about this by a reporter. His answer was, "Islām is serious all the time." Khomeini actually wrote:

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in ʾIslām. There is no humor in ʾIslām. There is no fun in ʾIslām. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. [quoted in Amir Taheri, The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, Adler & Adler, 1986, p.259]

Khomeini also said, "Music is treason to our nation and to our youth." This is all much like stories about the religious police in Saudi Arabia, who have been known to knock on doors and warn people if they could be heard laughing from the street. Such laughing in the home, evidently, betrayed insufficient seriousness. A similar story has come from Irān again:  The World Press Review reported, in July 1999, that the magazine Adineh was banned in Irān because it had printed a story by a woman about being admonished by the "state morality police" because she was laughing while eating with her family in a restaurant. The story was entitled, "Is Joy Lost in Our City? Is Laughing a Sin?" The answer, evidently, was "Yes! And a Crime!"

However, although fundamentalism is today very influential in ʾIslām, it would be a mistake to take these attitudes, in such extreme forms, to be necessary or universal in the religion. Any reading of The Thousand and One Nights, which contains very ancient stories but is mainly attested in manuscripts from Mamlūk Egypt, would disabuse anyone that anhedonia has always reigned in ʾIslām. The Nights is very serious about its ʾIslām, with discussions of Islāmic Law and stories about the Holy War against the Romans, but this doesn't stop a great deal of drinking, sexual irregularities, and the admiration of female, and male, beauty.

A device of several stories in the Nights is where the Jinn, , spot a woman and man, whom they see as the most beautiful of their kind, and put them together for one night, usually returning them afterwards, cruelly, to where they found them. In one case, which we see in "The Tale of the Wazīr Nūr al-Dīn," the couple were actually intended for marriage anyway, but then the careless disposition of the man results in the separation of the lovers for many years. Indeed, their son will be well grown before they are reunited. The woman in this case has the evocative name of , Sitt al-Ḥusn, the "Lady of Beauty" -- a name that gets used for some flowers, the morning-glory (and then, more ominously, belladonna or "deadly nightshade," but not in the Nights) [The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr. J.C. Mardrus, by Powys Mathers, Volume I, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964, 1972, 1986, pp.127-173]. These kinds of stories, and the striking name of Sitt al-Ḥusn alone, contradict the anaesthesia that we tend to get in a lot radical ʾIslām. Indeed, the element of emphasis on male beauty is a feature with homoerotic overtones that otherwise echoes the Greek aesthetic.

This range of attitudes, of course, from ascetic to aesthetic, is familiar from most religions. India, where some temples, Hindu and Jain, are decorated with pornographic sculptures, and where Classical painting and sculpture always showed bare breasted women, and more (usually looking like they've had breast implant surgery, as at right or in the popup image -- see more discussion of Indian dress elsewhere), nevertheless until recently didn't even allow male and female stars to kiss in the movies. Hence the Bollywood tradition of large dance numbers, to compensate, with separate male and female dancers. The leads sing and dance their love, without touching.

The very words "Puritan" and "Calvinist" bespeak episodes of the public enforcement of asceticism in the history of Christianity -- where many Christians still shun alcohol, despite the statement of Jesus, "This is my blood," τοῦτο γὰρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμα μου [Latin hic est enim sanguis meus; Matthew 26:28], referring to his cup of wine. Many Protestants, who pride themselves on the textual foundations of their faith and practice, substitute grape juice to commemorate the Eucharist -- and argue, incredibly, that Jesus was actually drinking grape juice, which is called the τὸ γένημα τῆς ἀμπέλου, "the product of the vine" [Latin, generatio vitis; Luke 22:18], despite the absence of a grape juice industry in the ancient world -- not possible before the introduction of Pasteurization and refrigeration. Ancient "grape juice," if not Pasturized or refrigerated, is what ferments into wine. Perhaps the Protestants think they can get away with this because the word "wine," οἶνος, isn't used there. But the word οἶνος is used when Jesus changes water into wine, "good wine," καλὸς οἶνος [John 2:3-10]. Was Jesus corrupting the wedding party at Cana with alcohol?

Although religious moralism has now revived as a geopolitical threat, political moralism was more widespread and more destructive in the 20th century. Although common in totalitarian regimes, from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to Communist China and Cuba, the most horrifying and monstrous example comes from Cambodia, where the Communist Khmer Rouge murdered perhaps a third of the population of the entire country, more than two million people. Not just beauty and pleasure, but even ordinary human sentiment and affection were prohibited and punished as "counter-revolutionary" activity. The following passage from R.J. Rummel's Death by Government [Transaction Publishers, 1994, pp.186-187] tells the terrible tale:

Of course, love between people could not be allowed -- it interfered with work. Not only was sex between the unmarried absolutely forbidden, but in some places boys and girls were threatened with execution for as little as holding hands.

Normal family life, including love and sorrow, was impossible in some villages. Children were taken away from their parents to live and work in labor brigades. If they died of fatigue or disease, which many did, their parents would eventually be informed. At this point what emotion the parents showed could mean life or death. If they wept or displayed extreme unhapppiness, this showed bourgeois sentimentality. After all, their children had sacrificed themselves for the revolution and the parents should be proud, not unhappy. Similarly, a wife expressing grief over an executed husband -- an enemy of the revolution -- was explicitly criticizing the Khmer Rouge. This unforgivable act of sentimentality and individuality could mean death.

The tale of Bunheang Ung vividly illustrates the danger of normal feelings. In December 1977 his work group was sent to work in Phum Maesar Phrachan hamlet. Coindidentally, his aunt of which he was very fond, lived there and he had not seen her for some time.

When he met her suddenly one day he impulsively took her hand. "I forgot, you see," Bun later explained. "I missed her, and I was pleased to see her." Immediately a Khmer Rouge cadre shouted at him. Bun dropped his aunt's hand and jumped away, but the crime had been committed. A meeting of Bun's [work] group was immediately called to deal with this serious breach of the rules. Bun was several [sic] criticized for his failure to develop a revolutionary morality. His action proved that he had failed to change his mode of thinking and failed to renounce the corrupt morality of the old regime. It was a most serious charge. Bun apologized. His group leader advised him to change his ways, or he would be punished most severely. Bun had no need to ask what that punishment would be....

Even calling one's wife by some term of endearment was forbidden. Haing Ngor had been overheard doing this by spies who also reported that he had eaten food he picked rather than bringing it in for communal eating. Interrogated about these sins, he was told, "The chhlop [spies] say that you call your wife 'sweet.' We have no 'sweethearts' here. That is forbidden." He then was taken to a prison where he was severally [sic] tortured, had a finger cut off and an ankle sliced with a hatchet. He barely survived [note].

Although the brutality and evil of these events almost defies belief (and were not believed by many, until the Vietnamese exposed them for their own purposes), they differ only in degree, not in kind or in principle, from the regime established by Lenin and Stalin in Russia. The word for such politics -- Terror -- is borrowed from similar policies during the French Revolution, when Robespierre forthrightly asserted that the Terror was the direct manifestation of Virtue:  "Terror is naught but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue" [note]

Anaesthetic Feminism

An example of similar principles invading a liberal society, and of a clash between political moralism and aestheticism, is the continuing debate in feminism over its longstanding tendency to reject any personal or traditional cultural emphasis on female beauty, regarding it as a devaluation, belittlement, or "objectification" of women, or at least as a distraction from worthy purposes.

There is an inherent conflict involved here, between the aesthetic and the moral dimensions of value, which, without the polynomic theory of value, is a matter of long term confusion and confrontation. The aesthetic is about the visible, sensible, and external, where "objectification" is essential, while the moral is about the invisible, intelligible, and internal.

The clash between the two forms of value is inevitable; and the approach of modern culture is almost inherently confused and incoherent: the aesthetic is unfair, since ugly people can be paradigmatically good and are deserving of human respect. On the other hand, beauty -- and sex -- sell; and the Nietzschean nihilism that rejects the moral sphere altogether, substituting nothing but the aesthetic, both appeals to the modern elite nihilist and contradicts their totalitarian and moralistic political views -- as on feminist issues -- which we see in the relatively trivial venue of ugly females in video games -- and actual protests when female characters are too good looking or sexy -- protests such as never occur over good looking male characters.

This conflict is particularly acute for female beauty, since the archetype of the feminine simultaneously valorizes the numinous external, as beauty, and the numinous internal, as the hidden potential of the womb. This produces a paradox both for the female, who may see her appearance as an adversary, and the male, who may see female beauty as a trap or deception -- and which may be used as such by some women -- while a male may "objectify" a woman as only an external existence.

The opposite sides of the political beauty debate have been argued in The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolff, who saw the celebration of beauty as part of a misogynistic conspiracy and a recent anti-feminist political backlash (though she changed her mind somewhat about this in a later book, Fire with Fire), and Camille Paglia [as in Sexual Personae, above], who defends politically free art, aestheticism, fashion, advertising, pornography, and so, in effect, the polynomic independence of beauty and pleasure.

Even more disturbing than feminist anaesthesia is the now established principle in "sexual harassment" law that sexual images and innuendo in the workplace, even in one case a man merely keeping a picture of his wife, wearing a bathing suit, on his desk, constitute a "hostile environment" to female workers. Sexual images may be unwelcome or disturbing to some, or at least distracting, like Goya's Naked Maja in a classroom, to which some feminist professor objected; but this is a matter of aesthetic and personal preference, like the Disneyland policy against beards (which, come to think of it, sounds like a hostile environment for males), not hostility.

The very idea that sex means "hostility" to women is a level of anhedonia that, not surprisingly, comes from the extremist fringe of feminism, people like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, for whom ordinary heterosexual sex is not just oppressive, but already rape. That such views end up being accepted as the Law of the Land, without a general hue and cry, and without recognition that MacKinnon and Dworkin were emotionally disturbed persons, is testimony to some deep confusions in public debate and political values. It is the workplace of tortured sexlessness and unnatural inhibitions that displays evidence of hostility -- hostility to life itself [note].

There was a remarkable volte-face by many feminists in much of this rhetoric, and even in previously stated and existing legal principles, once President Bill Clinton was credibly accused, not just of sexual harassment by Paula Jones, but even of forcible sexual contact and rape by others. It cannot be expected, however, that this is any more than a politically expedient and hypocritical exception to previous theory. None of the Clinton apologists have suggested reforming any of the applicable laws or principles.

While it is the tendency of Wolff and others to present emphasis on beauty as a recent and Western phenomenon -- as part, indeed, of the conservative blacklash of the 80's (although this is rather strange considering the alliance of anti-porn feminists with anti-porn conservatives) -- this does not explain historical and cross-cultural cases like the name of the famous ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, , which means "The Beautiful One Has Come," or a traditional Hawaiian girl's name like "Haunani," which means "Very Beautiful."

Or we see the Chinese character that writes the character for "woman," , , twice: (alternatively ), jiǎo (or jiāo), to mean "handsome" or "pretty" -- but also "cunning" -- and (as xiáo) "lewd, flirtatious." Or if we write it with "woman" side by side, in , nuán, we get "quarrel, dispute," or "stupid, doltish, foolish." Write "women" three times, as , jiān, and we get "evil; wicked; treacherous," "extramarital affair; adultery," or "rape." A lot of this we can ascribe to traditional Confucian misogyny.

A striking example of contasting the beauty of women with the martial vocation of men may be found in the great Indian epic, the Mahābhārata. Here the princess Draupadī, for whom the hero Arjuna will compete in the "bridegroom choice," and her brother Dhṛṣṭadyumna, both of whom were miraculously born from an altar fire, are described:

The spirited maiden with eyes like lotus petals and a flawless body, lovely and delicate, is the daughter of the great-spirited Yajñasena Drupada, and she was born from the middle of the altar. She is the sister of the mighty and majestic Dhṛṣṭadyumna, the foeman of Droṇa, who was born, wearing armor, sword, bow, and arrows, from the blazing fire and is resplendent like the fire. His sister Draupadī of the flawless limbs and slender waist, whose blue lotus [, utpala] fragrance wafts as far as a league, Yajñasena's daughter, is holding her bridegroom choice.

The Mahābhārata, Vol. I, The Book of the Beginning, University of Chicago Press, 1973, p. 347; photo is of stunning supermodel Yasmeen Ghauri, who is a half Pakistani and half German Canadian.

To anaesthetic, moralistic feminism, this passage is a classic example of sexism: what is remarkable about Draupadī is her physical perfection and even fragrance, while her brother is "resplendent" in association with his unusually substantial, and military, birthday suit.

On the other hand, classical Greek sculpture, presumably at the source of Western civilization, focused almost entirely on the beauty of the nude male; and it is arguable that later female nudes were inspired by Egyptian or other Middle Eastern sources. The Thousand and One Nights is notable for the equal emphasis it puts on both male and female beauty. There are stories where the Jinn, , discover the most beautiful youth and the most beautiful maiden and put them together (see discussion of the use of such a noun for a group in Arabic). Thus, female beauty is hardly something exclusively recent or Western. Instead, in the Western tradition, the kind of erotic, indeed pornographic, depiction of male nudes, which can be found on Greek plates and jars, has recently been revived in a vast output of gay pornography, even while many feminists have been arguing that all pornography (which they seem to assume only depicts women, or gay men conforming to misogynistic stereotypes) should be considered a "civil rights" offense against women.

At the same time, some of the most striking recent "pin-up" artwork of female nudes has been done by women, like Olivia de Berardinis (e.g. Let them Eat Cheesecake, the Art of Olivia, Ozone Productions, 1993). As models, Olivia has often used women like Pamela Anderson and Julie Strain, who are hardly feminist role models (Anderson even used the surname "Lee" when she was married to her sometimes abusive husband), but who do, undoubtedly, look good. There is also Barbara Jensen, as in her Eye Candy [SQP, 2022].

South Korean video game, "Vindictus: Defying Fate," 2024; American video games have deliberately made women ugly or sexually unappealing, even if they use live models who are attractive; this is to avoid the dreaded "male gaze" and the "objectification" of women; in this game, the woman's breasts bounce when she runs, and the skirt is so short that her (minimal) underwear are often visible.
In an artistic or professional context, it is ironically noteworthy now that many of those who are the most concerned with female beauty, in the fashion industry, and the vast majority of those concerned with male beauty, in whatever context, are usually expected to be homosexual men (as Whoopi Goldberg, dressed in white-face as Queen Elizabeth I, joked at the 1999 Academy Awards, "I think we've all had our hair done enough times to know that you cannot rush a Queen").

This is "Eve," from the video game "Stellar Blade," created by the South Korean company Shift Up and published by Sony for the PlayStation 5, in April 2024. The game received an enthusiastic response from gamers and is already selling very well. However, it immediately drew harsh reviews from the anaesthetic and anhedonic press, because Eve is, after all, good looking. This is now a sin in American games. While video games now often feature women who don't even look like women (Melonie Mac calls it the "trans-gaze," masculinizing female characters), the charge against Eve was that she looked like a woman. Nevertheless, one particularly nasty critic tried to claim that she didn't look like a woman, and that her designers had "never seen a woman." Unfortunately, the image of Eve was based on a scan of an actual South Korean model (Shin Jae-eun, not uglified), and the designers were largely women themselves, including the very good looking wife of the head of Shift Up. The response to this could get some mileage out of accusations of misogyny and even (anti-Asian) racism. Well deserved.
At the same time, radical lesbians, and moralistic feminists who hardly seem distinguishable from them, often seem to be some of the most militantly anaesthetic and anhedonic people in the civilization -- as Joan Rivers says, "Lesbians don't fucking laugh" ["Joan Rivers: Don't Start With Me," stage show & Showtime, 2012]. There has been a reaction to that even in the lesbian community, where we now have the phenomenon of "lipstick lesbians," who indulge in all the traditional paraphernalia of feminine beauty -- and a pair of such women can make a decent living now simply selling videos of their own lovemaking to male fans [a formula that even works at the level of non-pornographic light comedy -- see Kissing Jessica Stein].

The distaste for this, and for flamboyant drag queens like RuPaul, of the anaesthetic feminists and lesbians, however, must pale beside the discomfort they must feel with some kinds of gay art:  The only place in recent culture where misogyny is generally beyond feminist criticism is in art with a gay male theme. A striking example of this was the celebrated 1992 movie The Crying Game, where the only likable female character turns out to be male. The real women in the movie were faithless, treacherous, or positively murderous and evil. Ordinarily, this would have raised howls of protest, even demonstrations and boycotts, but reviewers and critics hardly seemed to notice that aspect of the film. Because of its gay theme, it was above reproach, whatever else it may have been saying or doing.

There is also the curious case of late artist Robert Mapplethorpe, whose photos of homoerotic bondage, sado-masochism, humiliation, and even blood-letting are counterexamples to the feminist thesis that these expressions of male sexuality, when involving women, are simply motivated by misogyny. Real misogyny is thus overlooked, while evidence that male sexuality is not, in general, misogynistic also escapes notice. The political alliance (called "intersectionality") between feminism and gay "rights" (which is all about ending property rights and voluntary association), it seems, trumps feminist doctrine about art, patriarchy, and even misogyny, especially in ʾIslām, but also shuts down the evaluation of anything else that gay sexuality might reveal.

Heels are popular with women because they do much more than add inches. Model Veronica Webb put it bluntly:  wearing heels is "like putting your ass on a pedestal." Balancing precariously on the balls of their feet, wearing heels forces women to throw back their shoulders and arch their backs, making their breasts look bigger, their stomachs flatter, and their buttocks more rounded and thrust out. And this is just an aside from what they do to the shape of the leg, which appears more toned, elongated, and recalling the shape of a leg tensed by arousal. [Nancy Etcoff, Survival of the Prettiest, The Science of Beauty, Doubleday, 1999, p.195]

According to Harper's Index, the average increase in the protrusion of a woman's buttocks when she wears high heels is 25 percent. [Linda O'Keeffe, Shoes, A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More, Workman Publishing, New York, 1996, p. 127.]

Not just feminism, but much broader principles of political correctness now have strong influence on law and education. The Language Police, How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, by Diane Ravitch [Alfred A. Knopf, 2003], details the effects of politicized standards in education, particularly the language that can be used, the issues that can be addressed, and the truths that must be distorted in order to avoid political offense. Among many marvelous examples, there is a passage that specifically addresses the political anaesthesia to be found in literature anthologies:

Censorship distorts the literature cirriculum, substituting political judgments for aesthetic ones. Because of the bias and social content guidelines, editors of literature anthologies must pay more attention to having the correct count of gender groups and ethnic groups among their characters, authors, and illustrations than they do the literary quality of the selections. State education officials carefully scrutinize the former and ignore the latter. Once literary quality no longer counts, almost anything can be included in literature anthologies, such as television scripts, student essays, advertisements, and other ephemera, while indisputably major authors share equal billing with authors whose work will never be known outside the textbook industry. Quietly but inevitably, what we once considered our literary heritage disappears from the schools. [p.160]

Paige Spiranac (b.1993) is a retried professional golfer and now "social media personality" and "influencer." She has occasionally created controversy by appearing in sexy clothing, even while just commenting on sports. This has generally involved the display of her breasts, but in this photo the complaint was that her buttocks are visible below the short skirt. This display is now not unheard of among daring women. Since thong bathing suits expose the whole buttocks, one wonders what the fuss is about.
The tendency of political moralism is to political orthodoxy, in whose terms aesthetic value is secondary to irrelevant -- or even improper. As Ravitch notes, this produces works that are not only aesthetically bad, but simply boring. Students not only find the material stupifying, but the sharper ones are usually aware of its tendentiousness and dishonesty. After winning the Cold War, the United States now manages to reproduce, perhaps not accidentally, the Soviet vision of education as political indoctrination.

Curiously, Ravtich came out harshly opposed to the movement for charter schools and education vouchers, which have enabled parents to avoid the educational establishment. Opposition to charters and vouchers has been led by the teachers unions, whose ideology and educational practice is exactly what we expect Diane Ravitch to stoutly resist. This surprising turn, at the same time, seems to have led to Ravitch disappearing, as far as I can tell, from the debate altogether. One wonders what sort of distemper overcame her.

The epigraph by Gary Saul Morson on this page illustrates how the politicization of the American academy has stripped the teaching of literature of any aesthetic value, substituted a Leftist and totalitarian political project, and in fact has left literature with no particular reason why it should be taught at all, except as political propaganda, in preference to what are thought to be factual treatments of politics and economics -- i.e. straight Marxist dogma.

Since modern English departments are no longer really interested in literature, and the substantive content they offer is really no more than Marxoid "Theory," which is generally not only ignorant of actual economics but even of proper Marxism, they probably should just be eliminated for the time being. Falling enrollment and disillusionment with "higher education," especially among the politically targeted "gender," namely men, may accomplish that naturally.

Even though many years have passed, anaesthetic moralism in feminism is alive and well. In 2011 we have The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, by Deborah L. Rhode [Oxford University Press]. Rhode is actually a law professor at Stanford and believes that "lookism," discriminating on the basis of appearance, should be a civil rights offense. The Economist says about her book:

Ms. Rhode clearly struggles to see why any woman would willingly embrace fashion (particuarly high heels). She is outraged that virtually all females consider their looks as key to their self-image. She cites a survey in which over half of young women said they would prefer to be hit by a truck than be fat. Her indignation is mostly moral. Billions of dollars are now spent on cosmetic surgery -- up to 90% of it by women -- at a time when almost a fifth of Americans lack basic health care [?]. The more women focus on improving their looks, Ms Rhode argues, the less they think about others. [August 27th-September 2nd, 2011, p.72]

In other words, Deborah Rhode knows better where the money people earn should be spent. Probably it should be taken away from them, in order to finance socialized medicine. Clearly, Rhode's intense, self-righteous moral indignation is that these women are not sufficiently self-denying, don't properly devote their efforts to the welfare of others, and, of course, are victimized by their own false consciousness, which creates "social" injustice both for themselves and for others. Rhode is said to believe that the "Beauty Bias" actually "restricts self-expression," which of course is not going to mean aesthetic self-expression -- that is in itself unworthy.

This is where a little bit of Nietzsche (we don't want more than that) would go a long way. Nietzsche's remark about Christian anaesthesia is far more appropriate here:  "I had always sensed strongly the furious, vindictive hatred of life implicit in that system of ideas and values; and sensed, too, that in order to be consistent with its premises a system of this sort was forced to abominate art" [The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, 1872, Golffing translation, Anchor edition, 1956, p.10]. Rhode abominates the art of female beauty.

More disturbing than Rhode's moralistic philosophy is the fact that she is teaching on a prestigious law faculty, inculcating a new generation of activist lawyers with a totalitarian political agenda. This problem has recently been examined in Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America, by Walter Olson [Encounter Books, 2011]. Despite the subtitle, the alarming issue in Olson's book is not just "overlawyering," which is probably something of which people are generally aware, but the agenda of the aging Sixties Radicals who have worked their way into these institutions -- an agenda that is anti-American, anti-Capitalist, anti-individual rights, and otherwise simply engages in propaganda for unlimited government, the abolition of privacy and free speech (where these conflict with leftist social engineering), and the centralization of all political power, i.e. the program, sometimes openly expressed, but usually hidden from public view (with the cooperation of the "mainsteam" media), of the modern Democratic Party.

Americans began to get a taste of the full meaning of this with 111th Congress (2009-2011) and the Obama Administration. The November 2010 election showed the reaction of most of the country, if not in places like New York or California, although it was mainly issues of debt and spending that turned out the vote.

In 2020, with the election of the senile Joe Biden, the totalitarian program is now on overdrive, with the "systemic racism" (i.e. capitalism and freedom) of America and everything in it used to justify totally destroying the Bill of Rights and Republican government. Since the Democrats also have mature plans to steal elections, it is not clear that the American people will have the opportunity to reverse this process.

For the time being, people can flee New York, California, Illinois, etc. for properly American States, like Texas and Florida, but the current 117th Congress, controlled by the Democrats, seeks to crush State governments and impose corrupt election laws in all the States. Packing the Supreme Court would also enable them to protect their ill-gotten gains and create the slave/police state of their dreams.

Just as dramatic is the way people vote with their money. Fashion and beauty are in no danger, except from sour and intolerant moralists like Deborah Rhode. Yet I bet that she votes for the same politicians favored by the people who will not be inviting her to Fashion Week in New York.

Varieties of Moralism

"Woman With Leaves," by Pablo Picasso, 1934

Egyptian Women and Beauty

The Morality of Laughter, by F.H. Buckley, University of Michigan Press, 2003

The Erotic as an Aesthetic Category

Logical Relationships of Moralism and Moral Aestheticism

Pages on Feminist Issues
Confucius on WomenIrene of AthensAnna ComnenaLe déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1862-1863, Édouard Manet
Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes Abortion Defense of Christina Hoff Sommers published in The Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 66:7
Against the Theory of "Sexist Language" Feminism Pornography Women in the Apology Letter in defense of Christina Hoff Sommers sent to the Los Angeles Times


Value Theory

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The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 1;
Chocolate Tasting with Karen Finley

The furor over Karen Finley is now drifting into ancient history, and many readers may not recognize her name. Finley will live in infamy among Conservatives for using her grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, back in the '80's, to do a performance art piece:  She appeared on stage in the nude, smeared chocolate syrup on her body, and invited audience members to lick it off.

The quite reasonable objection, of course, was why taxpayer money should be spent on something like this, which many people would consider offensive or obscene. Finley's own purpose in the piece was muddied when she later appeared in the July 1999 issue of Playboy magazine.

The original act seemed to be a standard angry feminist parody or send up of the "objectification" of the female body or, as the Playboy article itself said, "a symbol of degradation." However, appearing in the nude in Playboy magazine, especially with comedian Bill Maher personally licking the chocolate off her himself, would hardly be interpretated by the standard angry feminist as sending the "right message."

Finley compounds the problem by appearing, not just in her trademark chocolate, but without it also, in some standard Playboy nude poses. She doesn't look particularly angry or feminist and indeed is a very good looking woman -- wholesome and enjoyable -- little inferior to any Playmate. This was a curious development in the history of political performance art.

The conclusion is difficult to resist that Finley decided to cash in on her notoriety while she was still young enough to appeal to Playboy readers, and Bill Maher. Indeed, I have heard nothing of her since.

Return to Text

The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 2

The Critique of Judgment is an essential part of Kant's system in so far as it is supposed to supply a bridge and a synthesis between the First Critique, the Critique of Pure Reason, and the Second Critique, the Critique of Practial Reason. This sort of thing in Kant is the origin of the practice in Hegel and other Idealists of the "dialectical" progression from thesis, to antithesis, to synthesis.

What Kant ends up with, however, is not much of a bridge. Since the transcendent is closed to theoretical reason but practical reason gives us a clue about transcendent realities (i.e. God, freedom, and immortality), we might expect a theory of aesthetic value to give us something a little more concrete to flesh out the clues, especially when part of Kant's aesthetics is the "teleological judgment," which even from Kant's ethics (the "Kingdom of Ends") we expect to have some kind of transcendent resonance or application.

Kant's aesthetics, however, is subjectivist. This is particularly odd when Kant's most effective formulation of the Moral Law involves the dignity of a person (to be treated as an end also and never as a means only), which is not obviously derivable from the rational universality (of the first formulation) of the Moral Law (that Kant's system requires), while it does look more like an aesthetic good-in-itself.

Indeed, Kant seemed to be moving in this direction in his Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764), which I have discussed under Psychological Types. The formalism of the Critique of Practical Reason is really a reductionistic abstraction that is inconsistent with his better instincts, and pursuing the instincts of the Observations would have made for better aesthetics also.

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The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 3;
Beethoven's House

Beethoven lived in Vienna for more than thirty years, and he moved so frequently that he lived at at least sixty different places. A restless guy. The rooms we might expect to be preserved, where Beethoven died, happened to have been demolished in the 19th century. Otherwise, two of the apartments have both been identified and made into small museums.

One is the Pasqualati House (Mölker Bastei 8), named after its builder, Josef Benedikt Freiherr von Pasqualati, who was a friend of Beethoven. The composer lived there at least twice, and Pasqualati supposedly kept the rooms available should the man wish to return. The location is fairly dramatic. The apartment was on the 4th floor of the building, which itself was set on a clifftop. As we see at left. The site is a little difficult to find from the back. One can come up steps from the Schottengasse, or up a steep cobblestone way from the Schreyvogelgasse. Either way, one must pass around the building on the left and come around to the front door. These routes are not well marked. Below the front of the building there is a switchback ramp, with warnings, that goes down to the Liebenberg-Denkmal monument, whose gilt summit statue is visible.

It seems to be known that while living there, Beethoven composed the music for his only opera, Fidelio (originally Leonore, Op. 72, 1805, 1814). Beethoven never liked the opera, whose plot is a bit silly. This is probably why this was his only such effort. Nevertheless, we find Kenneth Clark taking the piece, whose themes are freedom and liberation, seriously, with an extended treatment of it in his Civilisation video series. There is certainly nothing wrong with the music.

There is nothing, of course, of Beethoven's original effects or furniture in the rooms now, but there are some items of interest. We see a life mask done by an artist, Willibrord Joseph Mähler, commissioned for a bust of Beethoven. The bust itself is also present, which is regarded as probably the best likeness of Beethoven that survives. Other images of the composer, such as in the text above, may be based on the death mask that was done, where he looks a bit different, as we might expect.

The appeal of the location for Beethoven seems to have been the view. Looking out a window in the photo at right, we are looking down on the Ring Road (Ringstraße) around the Inner City, with the University of Vienna across the street. This looked a lot different in Beethoven's day. The Ring Road is where the City Walls were originally, and the Pasqualati House seems to be atop part of the bastions (Bastei). The University was not there. Instead, there was a green, cleared space beyond the Walls, which is what you want for a proper defense structure. So Beethoven could look off into the distance. In the photo we also see the spires of the Votivkirche, but this was not built until 1853.

The view, of course, suggests some interpretations. We might think that it may have been required, or at least been agreeable to, Beethoven's soaring spirit. Even looking up from below, the sight impresses to an extent. That sounds a little silly, especially when few of the other apartments he occuped in Vienna are likely to have afforded anything of the sort. The city is not exactly San Francisco. But we may wonder. This would certainly be more commensurable with Schopenhauer's view of music than with Kant's, who wouldn't have had much of a view of anything in Königsberg. The only thing "wearisome" (lästig) here might be the hike up the stairs or the hill, particularly if the cobblestones are slick.

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The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 4;
The War on Music

If you've attended any classical-music concert in the past 50 years, you're likely to have heard a technically superior performance of old music, and no new music at all that you could understand or enjoy. to the near-total unability of post-World War II America and Europe to produce more than a small number of classical works that any normal person would want to hear...

The time has come, Mr. Mauceri writes, "to ask why so much contemporary music played by our greatest musical institutions -- and supported overwhelmingly by music critics -- is music that the vast majority of people do not want to hear -- and have never wanted to hear."

...all new music must be complicated and difficult, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose music -- as Mr. Mauceeri rather gently puts it -- "many people find absolutely insufferable after two or three minutes."...

The world wars were horrible, but they don’t explain the embrace of incomprehensibility, obscurity and repugnance by the composers and musical institutions of Western nations. The 18th and 19th centuries were full of wars, too, but no one concluded from them that music should consist largely of dissonant harmonies, inhuman rhythms and charmless sound patterns. The rise of the 12-tone compositional method, invented by Schoenberg and elaborated by his many imitators, produced nothing of greatness and signified a sickness at the heart of Western music...

He writes with derision about the “trinity” of postwar music: the donor (usually the government), the critic (not infrequently an idiot) and the institution (the university that employs the composer, the orchestra that commissions his music). It’s a nice arrangement, Mr. Mauceri remarks, but it “leaves out something quite significant: the audience.”

The War on Music, by John Mauceri; Review: "Songs Without Listeners -- Every concertgoer knows it: Most classical music written since 1945 ranges from boring to unendurable. What went wrong?" by Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2022, A15

Before I knew anything about modern music, I saw Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) himself in concert at the Jeita Caves in Lebanon in 1969. I wasn't exactly carried away with the music and was certainly in no position to appreciate whatever musicologists might appreciate about it.

Years later I attended a concert at Royce Hall at UCLA. A variety of music was performed, mostly Classical. After a while, however, some modern music was featured, which, of course, lacked melody, tone, harmony, and rhythm, like a frightened cat among pots and pans. But I had a moment of revelation. I asked what kind of movie scene this music would be used to accompany. And the answer was obvious:  a scene where someone has lost, or is losing, their mind.

Since the parts of such music do not fit together aesthetically, this can represent the confusion, dissociation, and fragmention of mind that goes with insanity. So there is a meaning and a use for modern music after all, if to be sure a narrow and disturbing one. But it also represents, appropriately, the nihilism of the modern intellectual who produces, consumes, and values such music.

The War on Music, Reclaiming the Twentieth Century, by John Mauceri, Yale University Press, 2022

The epigraph quote above, from a review of this book by John Mauceri, leads to the book itself, which is exemplary. Mauceri himself is an accomplished conductor and "musical scholar," independently and in academic positions.

The mystery is that so much good music was written in the Twentieth Century that was subsequently excluded from the Canon, as that has come to be enshrined by academics, critics, established orchestras, and artistic endowments or donors. This Canon, however, is largely insufferable to the public, associated with "music" that, as in the reference to Stockhausen above, is unendurable beyond a few minutes.

The book is a long meditation on how that happened. One easy explanation is that Mussolini and the Nazis liked traditional orchestral music, and this made it all anathema after World War II. All the operas written in Italy under Mussolini have been deep-sixed, even the ones that had nothing to do with Fascism.

However, events were more mysterious than that. Many composers fled Italy, Austria, and Germany, wrote a great deal of music in exile in the United States, and almost all of this music has been excluded from the Canon also. Not just Fascist music, but the "decadent" music rejected by the Fascists, was shoved into the same memory hole. All that was allowed to survive was the obscure and abstract advant garde music that had been developed by a few before, not just World War II, but World War I as well.

One way to look at this was as a backlash on the part of formerly Fascist Europe against the same exiles in America who had been rejected by Fascism. On top of this, however, was also the problem that music in the Soviet Union remained largely traditional, which added a Cold War dimension to its rejection. Meaningless noises were revenge against the Exiles, largely Jewish, and a blow against Communism, which the Fascists had always been against anyway. This "modern" and anti-Communist music was then secretly subsidized by the CIA in overseas cultural programs.

It didn't matter that the public never really liked this stuff. The critics and academics could sneer at them. Even better, many of the Exiles had written music for Hollywood movies, and thus had become unserious hack sellouts -- with movies made by some more of those Jewish Exiles or immigrants.

This all sounds pretty poisonous; and, really, it is. But ironies abound. Many objections to movie music were about the constraints imposed by the need for the music to describe the action, within the timing of the action. So this was not "pure" music. However, the precedent for this was actually the music for Wagnerian operas, or any operas, which necessarily accompanies and describes the action, with all its other limitations. While Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was tarred with anti-Semitism and Nazi associations, he nevertheless was not dismissed with the kind of criticism directed at movie music; and in time he received a post-War rehabilitation that was denied to the Exiles. After all, he had not written during the "exclusion" period of the Twentieth Century and could be grouped with the earlier Classical composers (Beehoven, Bach, etc.) whose music always continued being performed.

A further irony concerns Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). Schoenberg himself was one of the "fathers" of atonal modern music; and thus he is sainted in the ordinary narrative of the history of music. However, he became an Exile himself, and lived out his life in Los Angeles, teaching at UCLA. And he wrote music there, little of which was actually of the atonal style. Yet this came to be largely ignored.

Mauceri says:

...the fact that the music written in Los Angeles was not played there, much to the frustration of the composer. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra's first recording of Hollywood music, Hollywood Dreams (1991), had begun provocatively enough with a fanfare by Schoenberg. Composed in 1945 for Leopold Stokowski, it is called Fanfare for a Bowl Concert. It had never been played. Anywhere. [p.205]


In 2018, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its centenary season, including fifty new works that would be given world premieres, along with a traversal of its extraordinary history. Stoically, but with more than a touch of unbearable sadness in his voice, Lawrence Schoenberg said (October 11, 2018) that the situation with his father's music in his adopted city was now "less than zero." Lawrence Schoenberg is a retired mathematics teacher and understands what numbers mean. In this case, for the one hundreth anniversary of the Los Angeles Philharmonic not a single note of Schoenberg's music was to be played and no reference to him exists in any of their print materials. [ibid.]

Yet at UCLA, there is Schoenberg Hall, "Named in honor of famed composer and former UCLA music faculty member Arnold Schoenberg (1936-44)." So where Schoenberg deviated from the dogma of atonal music, despite helping found it himself, he joins other Exiles in the Outer Darkness.

How bad "modern" music can get we see in a quote by Mauceri:

When the guitarists Fred Frith and Les Cline played their first public duet on Saturday night at Subculture, it didn't always sound like guitar music. It sounded at times like a sanitation truck's trash compactor, like an orchestra tuning up, like a brawl between flocks of geese, like a creaky water pump, like a collapsing carillon and like a slowed-down train wreck. That's the beauty of the Alternative Guitar Summit, which is now a regular part of the New York Guiter Festival. [p.146; quoted from John Pareles, "Where Guitars Sound Like Orchestras or Brawling Geese," New York Times, January 19, 2014]

Of course, there is no "beauty" about any of this; and being entertained by the trash compactor or the train wreck joins the ugliness of much of the rest of "modern" art. A waste of good guitars. Where is Leo Kottke when you need him?

With little irony but much tragedy is the story of Erich Korngold (1897-1957). Successful and celebrated in Europe, Korngold escaped to America and, along with other music, made the mistake of composing for movies -- including A Midsummer Night's Dream [1935], Captain Blood [1935], The Adventures of Robin Hood [1938], The Sea Wolf [1941], Kings Row [1942], Of Human Bondage [1946], and Deception [1946]. Since he never wrote random noise and called it "music," this condemned much of his oeuvre to Outer Darkness. Mauceri gives us an example of his treatment:

When I learned that during 1997 -- the centennial year of the birth of Erich Wolfgang Korngold -- there would be no concert in the United States celebrating his life and music, I felt some echo of the frustration he and his family must have felt during his lifetime. Imagine my delight, then, in being asked to conduct the offical centenary concert in Vienna.

I soon learned that Marcel Prawy [1911-2003], the greatly beloved and eldery impressario, would be the "host" of the concert, which would be televised. As a friend of Korngold during his Vienna years, Prawy knew what he wanted, and this amounted to music written before the war and before Korngold's escape to America. But how could a concert -- a single concert -- that was to consist of excerpts erase the years in America, which included more than a dozen film scores, a symphony, and two concertos? Prawy would not give in, because he felt Korngold's American music was not "on a high enough artistic standard."

My conversation with Christof Lieben, who ran the Vienna Konzerthaus, was a painful one. I told him to find "a nice young Austrian conductor who was willing to do what Prawy wants, because I, as an American and a musician, could not pretend that Korngold did not live and compose in America." A few days later, I got a phone call: "I hope you still want to do this concert because Prawy is out."

Thus, in April 1997, I conducted Vienna's tribute to Korngold, which ultimately did include the devastating Andagio from his Symphony, as well as extended excerpts from The Adventures of Robin Hood, shown with the film. The concert was sold out and enthusiastically received, even if there were audience members who thought we had added the Technicolor to the print, since they had only seen it on black-and-white television, in Germany, and without Korngold's music.

However, it was a Pyrrhic victory. There was no press coverage. The principal critics did not attend. Television withdrew, and the delayed radio broadcast with Prawy's narration deleted the American music. He had replaced it with pre-war recordings from Korngold's Vienna days. [pp.202-203]

Actually, this sounds like a double-cross, where Prawy, who had himself spent the War in Exile in America, conspired to sabotage the value of the concert and perpetuate his own view of Korngold's importance, or relative lack of it. The Vienna Konzerthaus may have had nothing to do with the double-cross, if Prawy went behind their back to the press, the television network, and the radio network. His role with the latter is pretty obvious -- he was able to "host" the concert on his own terms after all. He got his way by betrayal, not the least in the betrayal of his "friend," Erich Korngold.

This painful episode is instructive. The nasty and shameful treatment of the Exiles is here blatantly obvious in the attitudes and the conspiratorial solidarity back in the Old Country.

All this to promote, ultimately, noise called "music" that the majority of music lovers recognize as a fraud.

Korngold could not catch a break even for his pre-War music:

The 2007 British premiere of Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane [1927] by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Vladimir Jurowski was described by Rupert Christiansen in London's Daily Telegraph as "unmitigated codswallop." "Dreadfully overheated and over-loud, the prolix first act has a slavering and maudlin sensuality that gave me the creeps.... I felt slightly sick when it was all over and had to lie down in a darkened room."

That same morning (November 28 2007), Michael Tanner's review in the Spectator stated that the performance was "an evening of disgust and revulsion" and "fully merit[ed] the description 'degenerate,' which has had to be abandoned since the Nazis used it as a category. But they weren't wrong that there is such a thing as degenerate art, and there is no more blatant example of it than Heliane." Later on, the critic described the score as "unrelieved musical inflammation, with frequent burstings of the boil and deluges of musical pus before the next one starts accumulating."

In 2007. Two of London's serious music critics. Not a blog. Not a Tweet... [p.170]

Thus, we find ourselves with major music critics feeling safe in suggesting that Korngold's music gives them the vapors, that Hitler was correct in condemning it, that his music is "pus," and that perhaps it would have been better had he died at age twenty-three, rather than sixty. Even Hitler did not come to that radical solution for another thirteen years. [p.171]

With such language and unanimity of opinion, Korngold's opera must have been really bad. Despite that:

A 2018 production of Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane in Berlin was so successful that it was immediately scheduled for a return in future seasons, and other productions have been scheduled throughout Germany. The German reviews were the very opposite of the drubbing it received from London's press in 2007. Suddenly, Korngold's opera is a masterpiece and, to quote one critic, "absolutely worth being rediscovered." Europe is taking the lead in restoring the music it removed from performance after the war. [p.189]

When opinion swings so radically, one does wonder what has been going on. What kind of music were Rupert Christiansen and Michael Tanner actually going to like? Did they really want trash compactors, angry geese, and water pumps? John Mauceri should have let us know.

But Mauceri has apparently been doing his part. The meaningless nihilism of modern music, like modern art, may be losing its grip. I hope so. Meanwhile, however, the worst of radical ideology stalks the land. Mobs of anarchists pay little attention to music. They would build symphonies from firebombs and explosions, or chants and assaults to silence speakers at universities. But anarchy has been building for decades, often in small ways, like the nihilism of meaningless art and unendurable music. It all goes together.

"Woman With Leaves," by Pablo Picasso, 1934


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The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 5

Haing Ngor (1940-1996) was a Cambodian physician who experienced some of the worst of the Cambodian Terror, fled Cambodia in 1979, wrote books about his experience, and then won an Oscar for best supporting actor for the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. Sadly, on February 25, 1996, Ngor was murdered by Asian gang members while leaving the carport of his Los Angeles apartment. The killing appears to have been part of a robbery, but rumor attributed it to a hit by Communist sympathizers. It is hard to believe that there would be Communist sympathizers operating in such an expatriot community, but it is obvious at American university campuses that a generation that never knew what Communism was really like back home can easily supply recruits for campus radicals from the Left.

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The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 6;
The Fairest of Them All,
Snow White and 21 Tales of Mothers and Daughters
by Maria Tatar, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2020

Political and anaesthetic moralism are alive and well in 2020, where we have Maria Tatar, the John L. Loeb Research Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, turning her attention to Snow White and related stories in movies, literature, and folklore. We don't get an academic heavy hitter any heavier than that, or a stronger commitment to political correctness and "progressive" academic narratives, the kind of thing that, as we have seen, seeks, paradoxically and defamatorily, to blame something like slavery on those who uniquely abolished it [p.26].

While there is a lot to consider in this book, much of it salutary, my interest is in how it provides pure examples of political and anaesthetic moralism. Not surprisingly, we get this when Tatar turns to a Communist like the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) and Frankfurt School Marxists like Theodor Adorno (1903-1969). So Tatar begins with Eisenstein's reaction to the movie Snow White [1938] by Walt Disney (1901-1966):

The renowned Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who improbably actually knew Walt Disney ("we met like old acquaintances"), was one of the first to develop what could best be summarized as a love/hate relationship with Disney and his animated films. On the one hand, Eisenstein saw in the films "a joyful and beautiful art that sparkles with a refinement of form and dazzling purity." But the filmmaker was also quick to perceive a dark side to Disney's cult of beautiful forms, for much as the cinematic artworks produced in Hollywood seemed remote from politics, their very commitment to pure entertainment and their promotion of a culture of distraction raised a red [!] flag and made them deeply suspect in ideological terms. [p.31, Eisenstein was in Hollywood in 1930]

Tatar seems to write this without irony. The "dark side" of Disney films is a lack of a poltical message or program, which in itself becomes a political program, if it is meant to distract from the evils of capitalism, or patriarchy, racism, etc. This makes any such art ideologically "suspect." Our art, after all, must be political, and political all the time, or it is politically "suspect" for not being (overtly) political.

We could hardly hope for a better example of the introduction of political and anaesthetic moralism into the evaluation of art and entertainment. In the background here, of course, is the Marxist abolition of Civil Society and private life, whereby everything becomes a matter of politics and the right "social" message and representation. As we have seen, this goes very deep, stripping individuals of their beliefs, their personality, their desires, their private life, and their very individual existence. We are expected to become robots, spouting approved political slogans -- not unlike Maria Tatar, come to think of it.

Not much "socialist realism" in Snow White. "Joyful and beautiful" are not enough. Part of the thesis, at the same time, is that all art is political even when it apparently is not. Walt Disney has an agenda, and it goes far beyond joy, beauty, and entertainment. He is sustaining the economic and social order of capitalism. Thus, the only proper form of evaluation of Snow White is a political one, where mere aesthetics, the proper point of a work of art, let alone entertainment, is dismissed as irrelevant, deceptive, or covert propaganda for sinister politics. This is paradigmatic political and anaesthetic moralism.

Next, Tatar moves on:

The American filmmaker, he declared, bestows on viewers, "through the magic of his works," a strong dose of "obliviousness, an instant of complete and total release from everything connected with the suffering caused by the social conditions of the social order of the largest capitalist government." Suddenly the impish charms of Mickey Mouse and the compelling drama of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs collapse, and we learn[!?] from the Russian filmmaker the degree to which Disney has created pure entertainment in its most sinister[!] form, a "drop of comfort" in the "hell of social burdens, injustices, and torments, in which the circle of his American viewers is forever trapped." Art has become a narcotic, an opiate for the masses as powerful as what Marx saw in religion. In the end, Eisenstein cast his lot with the revolutionary vector of communism rather than what he condemned as the narcotizing pleasures of capitalism, despite, or rather perhaps because of, the seductions of Mickey Mouse and Snow White.

Eisenstein was undoubtedly onto something big. It was precisely the power of Disney flims to entertain, distract, comfort, and soothe that made them so popular in Germany during the Nazi era. [p.32]

But we are onto something big to see what Tatar is doing here. The Disney films were, of course, popular with everyone, even Eisenstein, and to bring up Nazi Germany at this point is part of Tatar's own agenda to smear Disney and popular culture by association with Nazis. At the same time, when Snow White was released, Russia had already been experiencing Stalin's Great Terror for a couple of years, since 1936. The Terror Famine against the Ukraine, 1932-1933, was already history, with millions of dead. Perhaps Maria Tatar hasn't heard of that.

Eisenstein had "cast his lot," not with revolution, which was long gone, but with dictatorship and mass murder. Thus, his complaint against Disney or Hollywood is that it was not promoting Stalinist propaganda. We might have a similar complaint, that Hollywood was concealing the realities of Soviet life; but then we properly have no expectation that this is what Walt Disney should have been doing. We might have expected the New York Times to do that, but, to its eternal shame, it had not. It had helped conceal the reality of mass death, slavery, concentration camps, and torture in the Soviet Union -- practices for which Adolf Hitler already admired Lenin. In that, the New York Times reporter in Moscow, Walter Duranty (1884-1957), who knew the truth (as he apparently reported to British intelligence), fed nothing but lies to American readers of the Times.

As a stooge of Stalin, Eisenstein avoided being purged or murdered. He ultimately fell out of favor, however, by making a cycle of epic movies about Ivan the Terrible. Stalin liked the first movie, but not the second. The film stock of the third movie was actually destroyed. Eisenstein was on the shelf the rest of his life, until his death in 1948, at the age of only 50.

Many people, of course, had reasonably believed that the Great Depression discredited capitalism, even while glowing reports from Russia made it sound like Soviet Communism was marvelously successful. By 1938, everyone should have known better. Meanwhile, the Depression had been slowly healing, until President Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 and he quickly instituted programs that pushed the country into what has properly been called the "second" Depression. In fact, unemployment had never dropped below 13%, and it then jumped up to above 20% [cf. The Forgotten Man, A New History of the Great Depression, Amy Shlaes, HarperCollins, 2007]. The result of this was that New Dealers lost control of Congress in 1938 to Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Since all the distinctive economic measures of both Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt had been socialist in nature, the truth is that the "hell of social burdens, injustices, and torments, in which the circle of his American viewers is forever trapped," was the result of abridgements of capitalism, especially market prices, with the qualification that "American viewers" certainly weren't "forever trapped" in that, while to a much greater extent Russian citizens were -- until 1989, and now again under Vladimir Putin. We do not hear from Maria Tatar about the falsehoods and distortions of this presentation. Instead, we might gather that she believes it, despite the evidence of history. This is not unusual with American academics, who generally subscribe to English Department Marxism and are ignorant as posts (or dishonest and conscious allies, enablers, and collaborators) about the economics and history of Communism.

At the moment, we also might wonder where Maria Tatar comes down in the anti-Semitic spectrum at Harvard University. We discovered how bad that was after the horrific terrorist attack by the savages of Ḥamās on October 7, 2023. And the rot had gone very deep at Harvard, which also had just been judged by FIRE as the worst school for free speech and academic freedom in the United States. As Maria Tatar turns away from her Communist inspiration to other matters, what does she think about Israel? Does she want to endorse the program of Ḥamās to kill Jews, "from the River to the Sea," and institute triumphant ʾIslām? Inquiring minds want to know.

Following the introduction of Eisenstein, Tatar moves on to expand her reference to Nazi Germany. Hitler, Goebbels, and all the chief Nazis loved Snow White, and Tatar says:

It is hard to imagine that ideals of Aryan purity did not play into both Hitler's and Goebbel's appreciation of a flim with an innocent white-skinned heroine as the "fairest of them all. Ironically, Disney's "skin white as snow," more than Grimms' "white as snow," was an ideological bonus for Nazi leaders, who also applauded the revival of folktales from agarian "Volk" cultures. [p.33]

Tatar dwells again and again on the whiteness of the skin of Snow White. This is a "red flag" of racism that Tatar does not fail to run up the pole constantly. We already got a good dose in the Preface:

"European standards of beauty are something that plague the entire world: The idea that darker skin is not beautiful, that light skin is the key to success and love," Lupita Nyong'o once declared in an interview. [p.x]

There are two serious, tendentious distortions in this treatment. First, Tatar overlooks the fact that Snow White does not conform to Nazi "ideals of Aryan purity." Her hair is black, very black. And we know from Nietzsche that the "black haired," schwarzhaarigen, "are the last vestiges of the pre-Aryan population of Germany (die vorarische Bevölkerung Deutschlands)." Tatar perhaps doesn't know her Nazi racism all that well, or selectively forgets parts of it.

...ein Töchterlein, das war so weiß wie Schnee, so rot wie Blut und so schwarzhaarig wie Ebenholtz... ["Sneewittchen," Grimms Märchen, Anaconda Verlag, p.270]

...a little daughter, who was as white as snow, and as red as blood, and her hair was as black as ebony... ["Little Snow-White," The Complete Grimms' Fairy Tales, translated by Margaret Hunt, FP Classics, Prakash Books India Pvt. Ltd., p.218]

Snow White was not a blonde germanische Bestie, "blond Germanic beast." The Nazis often overlooked the hair color of people they liked (like Hitler), but it was not forgotten with people they wanted to kill. Thus, while Tatar constantly dwells on "snow white skin," she follows the Nazis with their inconsistency about hair. For the same kind of reason. She wants racism to condemn, not just Nazis, but Walt Disney and America. That is her program.

Nor are fairy tales just consumed with the beauty of black hair. And so we see:

Es war einmal ein König, der hatte eine Frau mit goldenen Haaren, und sie war so schön, daß sich ihresgleichen nicht mehr auf Erden fand. ["Allerleirauh," Grimms op.cit., p.350, boldface color added]

There was once upon a time a King who had a wife with golden hair, and she was so beautiful that her equal was not to be found on earth. ["Allerleirauh," Grimms' op.cit., p.286, boldface color added]

But if Tatar wants to condemn subtle racism in movies, she overlooks The Virgin Spring [Jungfrukällan, 1960], by the "renowned" Swedish filmaker Ingmar Bergman. The eponymous "Virgin" of the title is a real Aryan ideal, the blond, very white and blond, Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), who is raped and murdered in the story. The contrast is with the servant Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), who is a schwarzhaarig worshiper of Odin and who, no virgin, is pregnant out of wedlock, dabbles in black magic, and wishes harm on Karin. After the murder and its consequences, Ingeri repents, and we suspect canonization for Karin, who was actually rather spoiled and silly. But we cannot miss the contrast of the hair color and complexion. Andrew Young, of course, the Ambassador to the United Nations for Jimmy Carter, famously said that the Swedes were as racist as anyone. Perhaps Maria Tatar should forget about Disney and America for a moment and join in.

The second distortion we see with Tatar is made explicit by the quote from the African actress Lupita Nyong'o. "Light skin" is not uniquely a matter of "European standards of beauty." A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in her language and folklore departments Maria Tatar is unfamiliar, despite one reference to an Egyptian story, with a lot of world history.

Thus, light skin was an feminine ideal in Ancient Egypt. A long time ago, like more than 4000 years, the IV Dynasty official Rahotep and his wife Nofret are immortalized in the statues at right. He's brown. She's, what? White? Is this one of the standards of beauty that "plague the entire world"? But I don't hear about that. Indeed, what I often hear is that the Egyptians were black, which would have to mean that the Arab Conquest in 640 AD resulted in the genocide of the Egyptians, who do not now look like Nubians. I don't hear that either.

Well, we know why we don't hear about it. "White" or even brown Egyptians, let alone a genocide by Arabs, doesn't feed into the racism of America. That is all that counts in modern "progressive" politics, whose animus is pretty focused. And Modern Egyptians don't look like Nubians because, generally, they look like Ancient Egyptians, like Rahotep and Nofret. It is not at all hard to find full color Egyptian art, showing Egyptians, or Nubians, as they are portrayed by Egyptians.

Tatar's inconsistency or ignorance fits perfectly into the characteristic incoherence of moralistic relativism, which excuses any evils as long as they don't occur in America -- like feminists who demonstrate in "Handmaid's Tale" clown costumes, while ignoring burkas, let alone genital mutilation, in Muslim countries. We never see feminists demonstrating in burkas.

And, of course, we also see the valorization of light skin in India, where Hindus of higher castes are expected to have ligher skin that lower castes. This is harder to maintain in the South of India, but it is conspicuous in the North.

Speaking of Arabs, In the Thousand and One Nights, Princess Splendor the Jinnīyah is described thus:

Her face is white as a happy day... Her hair is black and lies upon her shoulders like night on day... her mouth is carnelian... ["The Adventures of Hasan of Basrah," The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr. J.C. Mardrus, by Powys Mathers, Volume III, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964, 1972, 1986, p.207]

Maria Tatar does not even need to leave the present to find falsifying counter-examples to her "European standards of beauty." Japanese Geishas, in traditional costume and makeup, are not just white-ish, like Nofret. Their faces are stark, China doll white. This takes makeup. A lot of it. Not an aesthetic that appeals to me, but I certainly can see the message.

Indeed, the Geisha, like the Princess Splendor, displays the red, white, and black colors that define Snow White -- red (or carnelian) lips, white skin, black hair. Tatar dwells on these colors, not just the white, at some length, with sinister implications -- they are the colors of Imperial and Nazi Germany! [pp.21-26]. How did the Japanese get that right, centuries before the Kaiser? Or Hitler? Must have been some kind of precognition, especially precognition of their role in the racism of a Disney movie, and, more substantively, that Japan would be an ally of Nazi Germany in World War II. Similarly, the Grimm brothers, publishing their folklore in 1812 and 1815, must have known the colors of the German Empire from 1871. Both brothers, born in Hesse-Cassel, had died by then -- Jakob in 1863, Wilhelm in 1859. Precognition again.

Thus, in her desire to generalize "the Beautiful Girl" stories beyond European examples, Tatar is too intent on pinning the idea of "white skin" on European, or Disney, racism. The association, not just of beauty, but of social superiority, with light skin color is widespread in world cultures, and Tatar cannot pursue her agenda without the distortion of misrepresenting this. This damages the value of her folklore study. And when we see, not just the narrative of racism, but the theoretical apparatus of Marxism and Communism, then the value framework of the whole enterprise turns negative. One wonders if the envy of the beautiful girl, the cross-cultural theme of all her folktales, reflects some of sort of jealousy or envy in Maria Tatar, not just for beauty, but for the goodness of America. On top of the problematic of anaesthetic and political moralism, we have one of the guilt and self-hatred of the "liberal" elite who turn out this kind of poisonous, illiberal scholarship.

From her detour through Nazis, Tatar returns to comfortable Marxists:

It took Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer to recognize just how tightly controlled and agenda driven Disney's "magnificent artistic achievements" really were. They believed that the films made by the Hollywood studio were as much about social engineering as what the Walt Disney Company now calls Imagineering. For the two German [Marxist] sociologists from the Frankfurt School, mass culture exists only to distract, soothe, and appease, offering "the freedom to choose what is always the same." In Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), Adorno and Horkheimer made a compelling, if reductive, case for the US film industry operating in much the same way as the entertainment arm of fascist regimes in Europe, with monopoly capitalism creating passive viewers who mindlessly consume cultural products created by hegemonic institutions. [p.33]

It probably would have surprised the 27-year-old Walt Disney, when he created Mickey Mouse in 1928, that he was part of "monopoly capitalism" and the beneficiary of "hegemonic institutions." In fact, of course, there were no "passive viewers" to his cartoons. Walt could easily have been ignored and rejected, with his company failing, as most entrepreneurial start-ups actually do. It didn't fail, just because it wasn't "always the same." Much of the delight was in its novelty.

But Frankfurt Marxists -- who are never identified as Marxists by Tatar, only as "sociologists," an evasion that may tell us something -- and tenured, elite Harvard professors, do not operate in the real world. They see no entrepreneurial start-ups, or their frequent failures, but only monopolies and hegemony (like the universities where Marxists generally work) because they can then argue that governmental, dictatorial control over business and entertainment is really no different from the situation under capitalism.

Marx, by contrast, thought that capitalism was a process by which monopolies were created and the "petite bourgeoisie" eliminated, before the few remaining monopoly capitalists could simply, and seamlessly, be replaced with revolutionary workers. People like Adorno and Tatar like to think that the monopolies are already there, despite any flourishing of small business. Tatar actually says it. Walt Disney's fragile little company in 1928 was just like the State propaganda ministry of Nazi Germany.

We see Tatar confusing the marginal business of 1928 with the later successful, institutionalized corporation that had the "Imagineering" motto. That being the case, a Stalinist bureaucrat is actually just as good as any revolutionary workers in taking over economic power. Marxists want a police state whatever the conditions and whatever the theory was that Marx had actually had. And whatever the state entertainment industry will produce, there will be no novelty or delight in its relentless propaganda message. Actually, like a lot of recent Hollywood movies -- you can always tell when the critics like them but audiences don't.

So Adorno and Horkheimer "recognized" nothing, and they did not make any "compelling... case," reductive or otherwise, for Walt Disney as a conscious agent of a fascist "entertainment arm" of "monopoly capitalism." It is nonsense; and its endorsement by Maria Tatar, however qualified, exposes her as an ideologically blinded political operative, a functionary in the program of destroying anyone who wants to be their own boss, do something new, and serve or delight the public. Instead, the kind of regime these people favor produces nothing new, delights no one, and revels in bureaucratic despotism over the citizens -- come to think of it, like the Democratic Party. Tatar cannot deny it, when her own ideology holds that everyone and everything is political. She is either for capitalism or against it. No middle ground. And everything she does contributes to one side or the other. And we know which side she is on.

But there's more:

Offering the illusion of freedom and escape, mass culture, in a series of cleverly calibrated calculations [that scheming Walt Disney!], reinforces its own power by accommodating within it resistance to its own system: "The escape from everyday drudgery which the whole culture industry promises may be compared to the daughter's [i.e. Snow White's] abduction in the cartoon: the father is holding the ladder in the dark. The paradise offered by the culture industry is the same old drudgery. Both escape and elopement are pre-designed [by that scheming Disney again!] to lead back to the starting point. Pleasure promotes the resignation which it ought to help to forget." Pleasure, in other words, has its perils, for it has designs on viewers, doubling back and perpetuating acceptance of the status quo even as it purports to offer an escape hatch from it. [pp.33-34]

This is pretty vicious stuff. The new elements here are the reference to "mass culture" and the "problematization" of pleasure. Some American teenagers forming a band in their garage and getting a hit single was to Soviet ideology illegitimate. The teenagers were part of "mass culture" and "monopology capitalism," like the Russian artists in the late 1970's who staged an unauthorized art exhibit and had their works buried by police bulldozers. This exposed that the "Helsinki Accords" negotiated by Jimmy Carter were meaningless.

Meanwhile, no one in the West was interested in whatever legitimate Soviet culture ("folk," or was it "Volk," culture?) was supposed to be producing. Soviet life was the real "drudgery," with no exit. Russians couldn't just head for California, like Depression era Okies. People who wanted to leave the socialist paradise were ungrateful, or proper psychiatric patients. Enjoy that shock therapy, like the drugs of THX 1138.

With the references to pleasure, we get to see anaesthesia passing over into anhedonia. If you are enjoying Mickey Mouse, you are particpating in your own oppression. Therefore, you better not enjoy it. You need to get out and overthrow capitalism. Or perhaps at least read Harvard Marxists or Noam Chomsky. That'll learn ya.

The folly of Frankfurt Marxists writing in 1944 can be somewhat excused by the delusions of the time. Maria Tatar does not have that excuse. She has to know about the Terror Famine, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields of Cambodia, where people were murdered for showing human affection. And at some level Tatar may understand how bad this stuff is. Thus, after the passage just quoted, she says, "The demonization of Disney as a tranquilizing agent feels in many ways exaggerated..." [p.34].

No, the problem is not exaggeration. The problem is that it is evil. And Professor Tatar, living her comfortable life in Massachusetts, has made herself part of the evil, at great expense to the rest of us, politically, economically, and morally. Professor Tatar teaches her anti-Americanism to students who then vote for Bernie Sanders, whose staffers have anticipdated "re-education" camps (just like the GULAG!) for uncooperative Americans. Unfortunately for Bernie, he decided to voice publicly some of his customary apologetic for Fidel Castro. The Democrat establishment decided that a senile Joe Biden was preferable.

As it is, the modern Disney Studios has recently turned out a series of movies that amount to political propaganda. Maria Tatar must be jubilant. Of course, Disney stockholders are not jubilant, since almost all the politicized movies have bombed. And Disney has adopted the approach of blaming audiences for the failure of the movies, even smearing them as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. -- all the standard Leftist political crimes. Thus, by smearing and alienating audiences, Disney functionaries somehow hope to attract them to movies that are obviously made by people who simply hate them. And Disney management has committed itself to continuing in the same fashion -- a kind of death spiral for a company of such a history. The viciousness of all this is far less surprising than its simple irrationality.

Anti-American Americans



Political Economy

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The Fallacy of Moralism, Note 7

MacKinnon's presence in the media seemed to suddenly disappear a few years ago, and it is only now I realize that it may have been because of her support of the Paula Jones lawsuit. MacKinnon said, "When Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton, male dominance quaked." This would not have endeared her to other feminists who, after a slight hesitation, voided (temporarily) all their long stated principles in order to protect a political ally. Indeed, at the time, I did not even hear of MacKinnon's opinion.

Also, while orthodox feminists had no particular love for pornography, the open alliance of MacKinnon and Dworkin with religious conservatives (the detested "Religious Right") on the issue made many, at the least, uncomfortable. Dworkin herself gained more attention from her premature death (aged 58) in 2005 than either of them had garnered in a while.

The anhedonia of feminism and sexual harassment law has led to a new phenomenon in the workplace, where male workers avoid all social contact with female ones, restricting their interaction to no more than workplace matters. Women have begun complaining about it. After all, if the men go drinking after work but don't invite the women, that sounds like some sort of hostile discrimination.

However, men now know that simply asking a woman out at work (let alone asking again after being turned down), or commenting on her appearance, favorably or not, can result in complaints, lawsuits, and even firing. The legal deck is stacked against social interaction between the sexes; and there is no level of innocent flirting when women can even charge that they were intimidated about filing complaints. Thus, it can't even be trusted with women who seem silent, complacent, or agreeable. Better to keep it all professional.

We can see the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" dimension to this. If there is social interaction and flirting, it's harassment, however innocent. If there isn't any, then obviously women are not being treated the same as the men. Either way, there is a chance for someone to cash in, especially lawyers. But it is a bed, as it were, that was made for all this.

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The Fallacy of Moral Aestheticism

The fallacy of moral aestheticism (adj. "aesthetic" or "aesthetistic") results from the generalization of ideal ethics into all of ethics. The paradigm of aesthetic judgment dominates ethics. Truth = Beauty. All ethical goods and imperatives are relativized into aesthetic preferences, with an emphasis on human "creativity" instead of on a concern for what is right -- e.g. Richard Rorty:  see Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, where Rorty argues that it is more morally responsible to make up one's own morality than to worry about whether what one does is objectively right or wrong. Moral preferences cannot be "imposed" on others, and so the force of moral obligation is lost. A deontological ethical theory becomes impossible where there can be no ethical principles with any force. Only consequences count, and none of them absolutely.

ETHICS=ARTAesthetics, the beautiful and the ugly: theory of art & beauty, the value of all things, the worth of nature, the relation of value and being, things good-in-themselves.
MORALITY=ART[Ideal or Euergetic Ethics, the good and the bad] creativity in human life, happiness, fulfillment, self-realization and individuation, ideals created and chosen by individuals or cultures.
[Morality, right and wrong] moral goodness created and courageously chosen by individuals, according to their personal ideals; no one should be limited by moral standards "imposed" by others -- that is the "bad faith" of not being true to one's self.
Optatives -- wishes

Graphic Version of Table.

Although Camille Paglia defends aestheticism, she does not defend moral aestheticism and is aware of the difference. In aestheticism proper art is merely independent of morality. In moral aestheticism it replaces morality. It is true, however, that, just as moral rigorism tends to moralism, aestheticism tends to moral aestheticism. Thus, Paglia says:

Mademoiselle de Maupin demonstrates how the aesthete's infatuation with the visible is at the expense of the invisible or ethical. The aesthete is an immoralist....He [D'Albert, a character in the novel] says, "It is a real torture to me to see ugly things or ugly persons."....Here are the origins of Wilde's aesthetic, with its arrogant exclusiveness. The old or ugly are valueless to the poet of the visible world. D'Albert makes the high Greek claim, "What is physically beautiful is good, all that is ugly is evil." The Apollonian is always cruel. Only Dionysius gives empathy. Aestheticism invests in art objects the affect withdrawn from persons [Ibid. p. 410.]

Paglia's frequent moral judgments in Sexual Personae can be confusing unless it is kept in mind that morality and aestheticism do not exclude one other -- only morality and moral aestheticism do that. In practice, morality or its discourse may be rejected by moral aestheticism to different degrees. For that, see:

Varieties of Moral Aestheticism

Aestheticism and Moral Aestheticism in Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music


Value Theory

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The Fallacy of Moralistic Relativism

Sharp fluctuations of moral absolutism and moral relativism are also among the attitudes of intellectuals revealed in this study. The moral absolutism is reserved for the stern judgments of their own society, while a pragmatic moral relativism appears when they give the benefit of the doubt to certain dictators and their political systems as long as they find them fundamentally praiseworthy and well intentioned. It follows that the centrality and consistent use of the critical faculties of intellectuals has often been overestimated.

Paul Hollander, From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez, Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship, Cambridge University Press, 2016, p.14.

But the philosophy that killed off truth proclaims unlimited tolerance for the 'language games' (i.e., opinions, beliefs and doctrines) that people find useful. The outcome is expressed in the words of Karl Kraus:  'Alles ist wahr und auch das Gegenteil.' 'Everything is true, and also its opposite.'

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), "Our Merry Apocalypse," 1997, Is God Happy? Selected Essays, Basic Books, 2013, p.318.

The inescapable conclusion is that subjectivity, relativity and irrationalism are advocated [by Richard Rorty] not in order to let in all opinions, but precisely so as to exclude the opinions of people who believe in old authorities and objective truths. This is the short cut to [Antonio] Gramsci's new cultural hegemony:  not to vindicate the new culture against the old, but to show that there are no grounds for either, so that nothing remains save political commitment.

Thus, almost all those who espouse the relativistic 'methods' introduced into the humanities by Foucault, Derrida and Rorty are vehement adherents to a code of political correctness that condemns deviation in absolute and intransigent terms. The relativistic theory exists in order to support an absolutist doctrine. We should not be surprised therefore at the extreme disarray that entered the camp of deconstruction, when it was discovered that one of the leading ecclesiastics, Paul de Man, once had Nazi sympathies. It is manifestly absurd to suggest that a similar disarray would have attended the discovery that Paul de Man had once been a communist -- even if he taken part in some of the great communist crimes. In such a case he would haved enjoyed the same compassionate endorsement as was afforded to [György] Lukács, [Maurice] Merleau-Ponty and Sartre.

Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left, Bloomsbury, 2015, pp.236-237; boldface added; the insight of Scruton in this passage contrasts with the confusion and folly of his regard for Wittgenstein, whom he does not seem to understand provides the same kind of foundation of nihilism, relativism, and irrationalism provided by Foucault, Derrida, Rorty, etc.

At some point in the 1980s, not being "judgmental" became the highest form of virtue -- although the left is plenty judgmental about things they don't like, such as white males, smokers, Christianity, Wal-Mart, Fox News, talk radio and NASCAR.

Liberals are so determined not to stigmatize anybody that their solution is always to make all of society suffer instead...

Ann Coulter, "Mental health laws are trouble for Democrats," December 18, 2013

The form of moralistic relativism would be evident in an assertion like this:  "Because all values are relative, you have no right to impose your value judgments on others; but if you are not a progressive in politics, you are a fascist and so cannot be allowed to express your vicious and hateful opinions in public, or even private, discourse." These attitudes are rarely stated in such stark juxtaposition; but finding them actually held by the same persons, and voiced in separate contexts, is not difficult.

Ἐγκλινοβάραγγος (Enklinobarangus)

It is not unusual to find theories, and people, insensibly shifting back and forth between moralism and moral aestheticism. Since there actually are separate domains of value, it is difficult to deal with life from absolutely consistent moralistic or morally aesthetic viewpoints. Today this is most conspicuous in doctrines, which are often political ideologies, that present themselves in relativistic and morally aesthetic ways (i.e. "multiculturalism," with all its talk about "diversity," which may be based on ideas of cultural relativism, etc.), but then begin to dictate extremely moralistic, dogmatic, and even totalitarian political principles for behavior (the "political correctness" that follows from politicized "multiculturalism"). The heteronomous relativism of recently popular historicism -- which condemns societies that absolished slavery, e.g. the United States, but excuses it in societies that did not, e.g. in ʾIslām -- easily leads to this. It is the fundamental paradox of trying to use the descriptive principles of relativism as absolute moral injunctions.

This phenomenon is noted, though not in the same terms, by Paul Hollander in The Survival of the Adversary Culture:

Paul Craig Roberts characterizes the resulting attitudes [of Western and American intellectuals] as a "fusion of moral scepticism with the demand for moral perfection..." He also points out that the high, moralistic demands on the part of intellectuals are almost invariably directed at their own society, rarely at those opposed to it.... In other words, the intellectuals discussed alternate between moral absolutism and moral relativism. [The Survival of the Adversary Culture, Transaction Publishers, 1991, p. 156]

It is even simpler than this. Moral aestheticism, relativism, and scepticism are used to defend what is favored by a political writer. The argument is then that whatever is favored is allowed because nothing can be morally disallowed. On the other hand, moralism, absolutism, and dogmatism are used to attack what is not favored by a political writer. This is done less often by way of argument that by deploying a battery of emotionally charged epithets -- racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. -- whose status as moral evils is regarded as self-evident and whose application to specific cases is regarded as appropriate and decisive if it is merely conceivable and considered useful in a favored cause.

The irony and irrationality of these contradictory strategies is further explored by Hollander:

Another way to highlight these contrasts is to note that American intellectuals, even the most severe social critics among them, harbor high expectations about their society, and it is the frustration of these expectations which often turns into bitterness and rejection. I had argued elsewhere, that the broad historical background against which such expectations are played out is that of secularization. As Roberts put it "...the secularization of Christian moral fervor...produced demands for the moral perfection of society..."

In the final analysis alienation is, among other things a response to the frustration created by the lack of meaning in modern society. It has been pointed out often enough that politics takes on religious overtones when religion proper withers, at any rate among intellectuals. Along these lines Doris Lessing observed:

There are certain types of people who are political out of a kind of religious reason...I think it's fairly common among socialists: They are in fact God-seekers, looking for the kingdom of God on earth...trying to abolish the present in favor of some better future -- always taking it for granted that there is a better future. If you don't believe in heaven you believe in socialism.

There is a close and obvious connection between the embrace of Marxist socialism and the social critical impulse. Marxism is a philosophy of intense moral indignation -- a worldview that helps to organize and systematize moral passion and which provides a seemingly scientific foundation for protesting social injustice. Marxism performs additional religious functions by pointing towards a better future which will arrive as a combined result of both the inexorable forces of history and the freely chosen effort of individuals who achieved the proper understanding of social forces. Leszek Kołakowski concluded his monumental study of Marxism as follows:

The influence Marxism has achieved, far from being the result or proof of its scientific character, is almost entirely due to its prophetic, fantastic and irrational elements...Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful...for it is a certainty not based on any empirical premises or supposed 'historical laws', but simply on the psychological need for certainty. In this sense Marxism performs the function of religion....
[Ibid., p. 157-8]

The combination of moralism and moral aestheticism thus results from a secular rejection of traditional religion and its morality (the morally aesthetic aspect) together with an unconscious and unreflective revival and adaptation of the religious impulse, in its most dogmatic and irrational forms (the moralistic aspect), to political purposes. The result is an oxymoronic "secular religion" which duplicates and magnifies all the evils identified in secular critiques of religion itself. The Spanish Inquisition, usually regarded as the most monstrous example ever of religious fanaticism and tyranny, thus pales besides the tortures, brain washing, purges, murders, slave labor, concentration camps, massacres, and genocides perpetrated by Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Pol Pot, and all the other secularized and politicized Saints and Saviors of the Twentieth Century. Their own ambitions to perfect human nature and alter history justified to them the use of means that even the Inquisition, certain of the imperfections of Fallen human nature, never would have considered. The irony of Marxism being a "philosophy of intense moral indignation" is that Marx himself didn't believe it was about morality at all: The unconscious moralism is concealed behind the pseudo-scientific obscurantism of "dialectical" reasoning. A fierce, murderous moralism than cannot even call itself morality is both symbol and substance of the combination of moralism and moral aestheticism.

The Double Standard Over Slavery

A good recent example of selective moral indignation, and of a double standard in which the United States is damned for lack of moral perfection while others are excused when not even aspiring to it, is the issue of slavery. These days, the names of George Washington and other Founding Fathers are being taken off of schools just because they were slave owners. In 2019, a Democratic candidate for President has said that the names of people like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the founders of the Democratic Party, celebrated at a Democrat banquet (on "Jefferson-Jackson Day") every year, should be removed everywhere. This is apparently the next step after removing monuments to the Confederacy.

In the way American history is now taught, the United States is viewed as eternally guilty, stained, false, and hypocritical for having ever allowed slavery in the first place -- with a sort of implication that Americans invented slavery (hence an "original sin"), all just because of racism. Britain is often similarly condemned for having participated in the Atlantic slave trade, which of course brought slaves to North America, the Caribbean, and much of South America also. The weight of guilt and obligation on the United States is so heavy that there is now a movement for the government to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves, in compensation for the lost value of their labor during the centuries of slavery. In some quarters, like many University campuses, the case for reparations is taken as so self-evident that opposing arguments are dismissed and even suppressed as blatant racism.

What is curious about these arguments is the implication that the United States is somehow uniquely responsible and blameworthy when it comes to slavery, as though slavery was (indeed) invented here or uniquely practiced here, or that nothing was ever done about it. Instead, slavery has been a universal human practice, what in Roman law was called the ius gentium, the "law of nations." Slavery was eventually abolished precisely because people like Thomas Jefferson argued against it, on the basis of the ideals of the American Revolution, which were new in history [note].

Barbary States Slave Trade -- white women valuable and rarely ransomed by slavers.
The African slave trade existed in the first place because, (1) slavery existed -- and still exists -- in Africa (Saudi Arabia only abolished slavery in 1963, and Mauritania in 1981), and (2) a slave trade had existed for centuries across the Sahara Desert to North Africa and the Middle East -- begun no later than by the Ancient Egyptians, and carried out in great volume in the Middle Ages by the Arabs -- a trade whose practices were protested by the Kings of
Mali to the Amirs of Morocco because slavers were seizing any black people, when they were only supposed to seize non-Muslims. Mali itself was Muslim. Black slaves were supposed to come from further south, in the pagan areas along the African coast -- where they were freely sold north by the local rulers [note].

How bad the misreprentation of the history of slavery can go we see in the 2022 movie, The Woman King, which took the Kingdom of Dahomey in 1823, one of the principal African slaving states at the time, and tried to make it out as fighting against slavery. The Kingdom also sacrificed hundreds of slaves a year in honor of deceased Dahomey Kings. There is a monument on the beach at Ouida, in Benin, "The Door of No Return," to all the Africans enslaved and exported by Dahomey.

What attracted the producers was the fact that the Kingdom had a corps of women warriors, the Agojie, who slaved and fought on the orders of the King of Dahomey. There wasn't a "woman king," despite the title of the movie. In fact, it looks like the Agojie were woman who had been rejected, for a number of reasons, from being wives of the Dahomey King. They were only a small part of the army of Dahomey, while the movie makes it look like they were the principal part of the army.

A leader of the women warriors was originally supposed to be African actress Lupita Nyong'o, but she dropped out of the project when she realized that the history of Dahomey was going to be falsified. Her replacement, Viola Davis, asserted that people were racist if they didn't see the movie. Despite glowing reviews, the movie did not do that well and raised a storm of controversy for its lies about the history.

The principal complaint of Dahomey in 1823 was that the British were already suppressing the slave trade, which had been outlawed by Britain and the United States in 1808. The movie makes it sound like Dahomey was fighting against Portugal to end to the slave trade itself. Nonsense. Cut off from the Atlantic, Dahomey continued slaving against its neighbors. This brought them into conflict with France, which was already protecting one of the targets of Dahomey slaving. The result was two Franco-Dahomean Wars, beginning in 1872 and resulting in the French take-over of Dahomey in 1894. So, as in Algeria, French "imperialism" is what finally ended slaving. Later, an independent Dahomey renamed itself "Benin" [note].

An Arab slave trade still exists, especially in well documented examples in the Sudan, where non-Moslem blacks in the rebellious (now independent) south of the country are seized and sold as slaves in the Arab north. Slavery has been explicitly revived by Boko Haram ("education is forbidden") in Nigeria and ISIS in Syria and Iraq -- now probably by the Ṭālibān in Afghanistan. Boko Haram made a name for itself with mass kidnappings of school girls, who were sold into sex slavery. This was briefly noticed by the Obama Administration, which then forgot about it.

Yet in all of this, there are no demands for reparations from Africans, where tribal organizations and previously independent kingdoms still exist that sold slaves to Europeans in the days of the Atlantic trade, or from Arabs, who still tolerate the surviving modern continuation of the practice. Indeed, the enslavement of black people in the Sudan is almost never protested, or even noticed, by black "leaders" in the United States -- it is really a cause célèbre only among Christians, since many of the enslaved Sudanese are Christians -- whose world-wide persecution is ignored by the "main-stream press" in the United States.

Perhaps as no more than a footnote, there is the curious case of Harry St John "Jack" Philby (1885–1960), father of the Cambridge spy Harold "Kim" Philby (1912-1988). After being fired as a British diplomat, the elder Philby became a retainer of ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz As-Saʿūd (1875-1953), the first King of Saudi Arabia (1926-1952).
Arab Slave Trade
Philby was on such intimate terms with the King that in 1945 he was gifted with a 16-year-old slave girl, Rozy al-ʿAbdul ʿAzīz, with whom he had three children. Philby would have been sixty. I don't see any information on what became of Rozy, not even a date of death.

There is now, as noted, an actual revival of slavery in Africa and the Middle East, where Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Syria and Iraq have been enslaving captives, including women raped and sold into sex slavery or forced marriages. This is all consistent with Islamic Law, as they remind us, even as their virtual apologists, like then Vice-President Biden, and open apologists, for Islamism and the Jihad, disingenuously deny their Islamic bona fides (while accusing critics of "Islamophobia," which, if it means "fear" of ʾIslām, is fully justified).

Even the notion that the United States is more culpable because Americans should have known better, or done something about it, is hollow. The ideals of the American Revolution, which is dismissed as hypocrisy because of the continuation of slavery, immediately had an effect in the swift abolition of slavery in seven out of the original thirteen Colonies. The Constitution anticipated the abolition of the slave trade as early as 1808, which is when it was done, in conjunction with Britain. The British subsequently employed the Royal Navy to suppress all of the slave trade, over the protests of the Africans who were selling the slaves and the Arabs who continued to trade in them. Britain abolished slavery in all its possessions in 1833 -- slavery had already been abolished in Britain itself by way of case law, i.e. legal judgments that innocent persons could not be held in bondage in Great Britain. There was not, as it happened, any kind of slave law in the tradition of English Common Law.

In the United States, the most honest description of the slavery controversy in subsequent years would be "constant uproar." This only got worse, until the Southern States seceded in 1861 rather than have even a compromising Abolitionist President. A great Civil War, in which at least 600,000 Americans died (by comparision, only about 400,000 slaves had ever been imported into the country -- as opposed to 2,000,000 into Brazil), enabled Lincoln to finally abolish slavery.
Moulay Abd-er-Rahman, Sultan du Maroc, sortant de son palais de Meknes, entouré de sa garde et de ses principaux officiers, "Moulay Abd-er-Rahman, Sultan of Morocco, leaving his palace in Meknes, surrounded by his guard and his main officers," 1845, Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863); Musée des Augustins de Toulouse, Salon Rouge
Be it known to you, that the Traffic in Slaves is a matter on which all Sects and Nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam, on whom be the Peace of God, up to this day -- and we are not aware of its being prohibited by the Laws of any Sect, and no one need ask this question [i.e. whether the trade in slaves be lawful], the same being manifest to both high and low and requires no more demonstration than the light of day.

ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān ibn Hishām, Sulṭān of Morocco (1822-1859), to British Vice Consul Henry John Murray, 1842

Why all this would bring the United States, or Britain, in for special condemnation or culpability over slavery is completely incomprehensible, and perverse. If slavery is wrong, with the 20/20 hindsight of the morally self-congratulatory, then the nations that abolished it, and suppressed it even in other countries, should get the credit for these deeds -- not a relentness excoriation and damnation for ever having had anything to do with it. And the double standard involved is palpable. While many Americans of African descent now see ʾIslām as friendlier to them than Christianity, or America, they don't seem to notice that slavery was always perfectly acceptable under Islāmic Law [note].

Indeed, one of the points of harshest condemnation of American slavery is the way that many slave owners raped women slaves and fathered unacknowledged children on them. Considerable efforts have been made to hang this charge on Thomas Jefferson. Yet, under Islāmic Law, slave owners have conjugal rights with female slaves.

By the same token, among the greatest horror stories of the era of slavery was the castration of black men who were suspecting of raping, or even looking wrong, at white women. Nevertheless, it was the frequent practice of Arab slavers to castrate slaves, black and white, producing the eunuchs valued for various purposes in the Islāmic world, including roles as custodians for the sacred sites in Mecca and Medina [cf. Race and Slavery in the Middle East, an Historical Enquiry, Bernard Lewis, Oxford University Press, 1990, & Eunuchs and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society, Shaun Marmon, Oxford University Press, 1995].

What's more, while white eunuchs might only have had their testicles removed, black eunuchs might have their penises amputated as well -- as noted more than once in The One Thousand and One Nights, a eunuch with a penis could still have sex with his female wards in the harem. Castration was controversial in ʾIslām, and Muslims were supposed to be prohibited from practicing it (Egyptian Christians, the Copts, were often employed for the African trade), but this did not prevent reliance on it, whether the surgery was done by Muslims or not.

The perversity and hypocrisy of the double standard over slavery is blatant. George Washington is condemned for having owned slaves, despite freeing them in his will, but the Prophet Muḥammad is revered, even though he owned slaves also, and slavery became a vast institution in ʾIslām. Britain, which ended the slave trade, is damned for ever having been in it, while the modern Sudan, ruled by Moslem dictators, is given a pass and escapes controversy (except among Christians) for the rape and enslavement of blacks going on at the present moment. The practices of Boko Haram and ISIS are condemned, but in a ritual and largely ineffective fashion. President Obama did not favor Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria, despite their being the target of virtual genocide, as well as sex slavery, because he would not impose a "religious test" on refugees. Well, the U.S. didn't do that for German Jews in the 1930's, so why now either? No, he wanted to allow a poorly vetted mass of refugees from Syria, who certainly contained ISIS infiltrators. One begins to wonder what he was really aiming at [note].

Slavery in the Barbary States, I

Slavery in the Barbary States, II

Slavery in Seven Pillars of Wisdom

A nice example of another double standard for Muslims has recently occurred at the New York Times. In February, 2016, the Times rhapsodically editorialized that the public swimming pool in Regent Park, Toronto, Canada, had created "women-only" times to accommodate local Muslim women in the neighborhood. This represented "inclusion." On June 1, 2016, however, the Times discovered, to its horror, that a public swimming pool in Brooklyn had long reserved "women-only" times to accommodate local Orthodox Jewish women. This practice was a kind of discrimination "unmoored from the laws of New York and the Constitution" and violated "commonly held principles of fairness and equal access," so that a public resource is subjected "to the religious convictions of one neighborhood group," those pesky Jews -- problems that apparently did not apply to the pool in Toronto and the "religious convictions" of Muslim women.

With Jews, but not with Muslims, we get the "strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular space." Perhaps the Times means to say that Jews smell and Muslims do not. Otherwise, what's this "odor" business? As it happened, New York's "Human Rights Commission" first got the Parks Department to end the women-only periods, but then public protest and political intervention reversed the decision. Orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn will continue to have the same accommodation as Canadian Muslim women. The editorial board at the New York Times apparently consists of people who are insensible of their own incoherence and hypocrisy. But this is certainly not the only issue where that happens.

The only way the double standard between Christians and Muslims or Jews and Muslims makes any sense is as examples of moralistic relativism. The United States is held to a moral standard so rigorous (and moralistic) that it is blamed for practices, like slavery, that existed prior to its inception and is condemned for not having instantly abolished the institution, despite the novelty of the very idea that slavery was wrong, and the dispute of the point in theory and practice by slave owners who had centuries of practice and legal, religious, and philosophical arguments on their side.

At the same time, the continued existence and morally unproblematic nature of slavery in the places of its origin is completely overlooked and dismissed -- for which the only theoretical grounds would be cultural relativism (or a moral aestheticism in which varieties of cultural practices aesthetically overrule mere moral objections). Much as Thomas Sowell has said, this incoherence is found in people who don't understand the virtues and advantages of their own land, but idealize some foreign hell hole as Utopia. They are willing to excuse crimes of the present elsewhere just to feed their own sense of indignation and wrong at something which historically is admirable and exemplary. But such is the vicious perversity of the modern Left.

We see a similar problem with the modesty of Muslim and Jewish women. This requires special provisions for Muslims, which in turn are condemned when provided for Jews. But that is only the beginning. What ʾIslām requires is ignored in many other public debates. Where Christians are threatened and fined for not providing services for homosexual weddings, the public debate rarely considers that observant Muslims will have no truck with this either -- even as homosexuality is punished with death in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. The 2016 Diktat of the Obama Administration, which believes in ruling by Decree, that all the schools in the country must allow everyone to use the bathroom or locker room in line with their own "gender identity," expressing nothing but contempt for Christians, Jews, and others who do not want male genitals in girls' facilities, apparently have not paused to consider that Muslim women, and men, are not likely to tolerate this either. Certainly, once there is an incident involving Muslims, the bien pensants will scatter like rabbits.

It has previously been noted as a characteristic of judicial moralism that ordinary moral wrongs can become demoralized in relation to "correct" political or religious beliefs. This move is easily conformable to a relativistic moralism, where mere personal crimes can be excused in various ways, but political crimes are inexcusable. Thus, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed that political prisoners under the Tsars had privileges -- they were not ordinary criminals. But under the Communists, the situation was reversed, and ordinary criminals were given privileges over the politicals. They were not, after all, heretics [note].

A nice example of political orthodoxy overwhelming simple moral considerations, and common sense, is from Life at the Bottom, The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple [Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2001]. Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist, was interviewing a 17-year-old woman admitted to his hospital for alcohol poisoning. She nearly drank herself to death after her boyfriend had been sent to prison.

My patient was intelligent but badly educated, as only products of the British educational system can be after eleven years of compulsory school attendance. She thought the Second World War took place in the 1970s and could give me not a single correct historical date.

I asked her whether she thought a young and violent burglar would have proved much of a companion. She admitted that he wouldn't, but said that he was the type she liked; besides which -- in slight contradiction -- all boys were the same.

I warned her as graphically as I could that she was already well down the slippery slope leading to poverty and misery -- that, as I knew from the experience of untold patients, she would soon have a succession of possessive, exploitative, and violent boyfriends unless she changed her life. I told her that in the past few days I had seen two women patients who had had their heads rammed down the lavatory, one who had had her head smashed through a window and her throat cut on the shards of glass, one who had had her arm, jaw, and skull broken, and one who had been suspended by her ankles from a tenth-floor window to the tune of, "Die, you bitch!"

"I can look after myself," said my seventeen-year-old.

"But men are stronger than women," I said. "When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage."

"That's a sexist thing to say," she replied.

A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

"But it's a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact," I said.

"It's sexist," she reiterated firmly.

And so our young girl, who must think that World War II and Disco occurred in the same era, would rather be killed by a violent boyfriend than believe that men are stronger than women. This must be a mortifying result even for feminists, who certainly have their moralistic political orthodoxies, but for whom violence against women is itself one of the supreme political crimes. Dr. Dalrymple observes that mere violence, against women or otherwise, tends to be excused among his underclass patients, by themselves and by the intelligentsia, both on the principle of "who are we to judge?" and on the reasoning that lower class crime is the result of social injustice, in which the true criminals are corporations, capitalists, financiers, etc. This is an extreme demoralization of all ordinary moral judgment, against which the lone moral certainty is something like, "It's sexist" -- a slogan that trumps the politically incorrect assertion of a factual and prudential truth about the respective physical strengths of the sexes. The foolish invocation of a political certainty in the face of indubitable moral and prudential truths is the perfect stuff of moralistic relativism.

Moralistic relativism can even be used by feminists to excuse the horrific treatment of women in many Islamic countries (e.g. genital mutilation, beatings, murders), while applying their standard condemnations to the West. Thus Jamie Glazov notes:

The double standard in the Left's cultural relativism is transparent, since such relativism always dissipates when it come time to scrutinize Western society. When the issue is enforced veiling and "honor" killings, for example, leftist feminists maintain that no one can say what is right and wrong. But if the issue is how women's bodies are "objectified" in Western advertising, cultural relativism immediately goes out the window. Such advertising is depicted as an immoral, loathsome emblem of the capitalist, patriarchal, heterosexist, homophobic power structure's attempt to marginalize women to spheres of powerlessness. [United in Hate, The Left's Romance With Tyranny and Terror, WND Books, 2009, p.206]

The complaint about advertising derives from the anaesthetic political moralism of much of feminism, which is actually a point of agreement with radical ʾIslām, which is also fiercely anaesthetic and anhedonic. Glazov observes elsewhere in his book that Leftist politics in general is hostile to pleasure, art, and beauty (too individualistic and apolitical) -- just like radical ʾIslām again. These commonalities apparently override the problem that radical ʾIslām is profoundly reactionary, Mediaevalist, and totalitarian. Few feminists would enjoy a burqa, but they might actually approve of the way the Tālibān would pull out the fingernails of women they found who were wearing fingernail polish. We know, after all, how oppressive fingernail polish is; and women would only wear it when they are suffering from "false consciousness" (internalizing the values of the Patriarchy) and are willing to cooperate in their own oppression. It's better if we don't let them do that.

Both of the great totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century can be analyzed as forms of moralistic relativism. Both Communism and Nazism (which shook off any of the consevative restraints in Italian or Spanish Fascism) explicitly rejected any traditional moral limitations on the behavior of the State. Violence and murder to any extent were seen as justified. For Communism, traditional moral scruples were relics of "bourgeois sentimentality." Nazism would agree with that but also could explicitly invoke Nietzsche's "beyond good and evil" transvaluation of Judeo-Christian moral values. This made the relativism explicit, with Marxist historicism serving for Communism, and Nietzschean nihilism serving for Nazism. The moralism, on the other hand, was an intense political moralism, in which all personal actions are expected to serve the national political purpose. The purpose of life is not private pleasure, private achievement, or private profit, but serving the ends of the Party. Those rejecting these ends are enemies deserving of death, whether they be the race enemies of Nazism, or the class enemies of Communism. This mixture doesn't quite work for the recent phenomenon of Islāmic Fascism, however strongly influnced by both Nazism and Communism, since there is no hint of the relativistic side there.

In their moral relativism, Nazism and Communism both tried to rely on the presumed authority of science. Marxism called itself "scientific socialism." Usually, people like to think that Nazism was a system of crude prejudices unrelated to science. However, the idea of "science" in Marxism was not based on any identifible method in science itself, but on the pseudo-scientific speculative fantasies of Hegelian dialectics. Nazi racism, on the other hand, was explicitly based on the contemporary general understanding of Darwinian evolution by natural selection -- survival of the fittest. Far beyond Nazism, this was to be associated with the movement of eugenics, selective breeding of the "best," and various manifestations of racial hostility. A dirty secret of "progressive" politics was its early racism. Labor leader Samuel Gompers and communist author Jack London both fully supported legislation keeping Chinese immigrants and workers out of the United States. An early slogan of the Communist Party in South Africa was "White workers of the world unite!" The essentials of Hitler's racism, indeed, can actually be found in Marx and Engels. The latter wrote:

The universal war which [is coming] will crush the Slav alliance and will wipe out completely those obstinate peoples so that their very names will be forgotten.... [It] will wipe out not only reactionary classes and dynasties but it will also destroy these utterly reactionary races...and that will be a real step forward. [from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung]

Marx also spoke in terms of eliminating "reactionary races" like "Croats, Pandurs, Czechs and similar scum." Toss this together with Marx's anti-Semitism -- "We discern in Judaism...a universal antisocial element of the present time" -- and Hitler's crude prejudices have bona fide Marxist roots. We also see the combination of racism and anti-Semitism in comments Marx made in a letter to Engels, dated 30 July 1862, about the German social democrat and labor organizer, Ferdinand Lassalle, a Jew:

It is now perfectly clear to me that, as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicates, he is descended from the Negroes who joined in Moses' flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the father's side was crossed with a nigger). This union of Jew and German on a Negro base was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid.

A "hybrid" that Marx otherwise characterized as the "Jewish Nigger" or "a greasy Jew disguised under brillantine and cheap jewels." Marxists, of course, rarely quote passages like this. Anyone using the "N" word today would immediately be marked as of nearly sub-human moral status. Marx's kind of racism, however, he shared with people like Nietzsche (in whom it is also rarely noted by the bien pensants) and many other heroic figures of the left. Margaret Sanger, now a saint of feminism for advocacy of birth control, nevertheless advocated birth control as part of a program of eugenics! The "unfit" should be encouraged (or forced) not to reproduce. It was the Nazi use of these ideas that helped to discredit them.

Meanwhile, Communists lost interest cultivating the prejudices of Western industrial workers and turned to Third World movements of "national liberation," involving all the pre-industrial peasants who had hitherto been ignored by Marxism but who had been drawn into Marxist theory by Lenin's theory of imperialism and Mao's practical appeal to peasant support. The "scientific" nature of any of these was just a way, of course, to mask the application of unlimited and ruthless political Terror.

Logical Relationships of Moralism and Moral Aestheticism

Exchange with Ted Keller on Relativism and Marxism


Value Theory

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Moralistic Relativism, Note 1

One purpose of slavery in the Ancient World was to discharge debts. There used to be no such thing as bankruptcy -- or even debtors' prison (which is the intermediate institution). Someone overwhelmed by debt would sell themselves into slavery. In less severe circumstances, people might only have to sell their children -- East (i.e. China) and West, the supply of prostitutes was usually made up by girls sold into it by their parents. The existence of this is indirectly shown in the Bible, where Leviticus 19:29 says, "Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry and the land become full of wickedness."

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Moralistic Relativism, Note 2;
The Word for Slave

...wir vermeinen, daß Härte, Gewaltsamkeit, Sklaverie, Gefahr auf der Gasse und im Herzen, Verborgenheit, Stoicismus, Versucherkunst und Teufelei jeder Art, daß alles Böse, Furchtbare, Tyrannische, Raubtheir- und Schlangenhafte am Menschen so gut zur Erhöhung der Species »Mensch« dient, als sein Gegensatz...

We imagine that hardness, violence, slavery, peril in the street and in the heart, concealment, Stoicism, temptation, and deviltry of every sort, everything evil, frightful, tyrannical, brutal, and snake-like in man, serves as well for the advancement of the species "man" as their opposite.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan, Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.50; Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.51 [daß restored for dass], color added.

The enslavement of Africans was little known in Mediaeval Europe. Instead, slavery tended to be associated with Slavs, like Poles and Russians, who were captured by Steppe people, from the Huns down to the Mongols, and by the Lithuanians, and sold ahead of them into Europe. Thus, we tend to see the words for "Slav" used to mean "slave" in many European languages, obviously including English. At root, we see the word in Greek, as Σκλαβηνός, and Latin, as Sclavus/Sclavenus, with many other variations in both.

How far ahead into Europe from the Steppe slaves were sold we can see from the word in Arabic used in Spain, as , Ṣaqlab (singular, صَقْلَب), and , Ṣaqāliba (the "broken" or irregular plural, صَقَالِبَة). This term was used in particular for the slave army used by Spanish Muslim rulers, a tradition more familiar with the Mamlūks in Egypt or the Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire. The particular use of this word in Spain was to distinguish these white slaves from black slaves who might be brought in from Africa, but who were not used in a slave army. I failed to recognize this word for a long time because of the presence of the Arabic "q," which corresponds to no letter in the English word; but obviously English has lost the "k" that occurs in Greek, Latin, and other languages, even French -- which has esclave.

Another language that keeps the "k" is German, where we have Sklave (plural Sklaven) for "slave" and Sklaverei or Sklaventum for "slavery." The term is notably used by Friedrich Nietzsche; and this is particularly apt for our purposes because, at a time when the evil of slavery is regarded as so self-evident that no one in history can ever be forgiven for ever having held slaves, Nietzsche, a darling of leftist intellectuals and academic "Theorists," not only sees nothing wrong with it, but positively asserts slavery's importance and value.

In the epigraph above we already see slavery mentioned among examples of "deviltry of every sort," with the comment that this group "serves as well for the advancement of the species 'man' as their opposite." The casual reader might miss the meaning of that in passing. But we get a more explicit statement, parenthetically in the context of "the aspects of slavery [Sklavenhaften] and bondage that have adhered and still adhere to woman's position in society": though slavery were a counterargument instead of a necessary condition for any superior culture, for any heightening of culture...

...als ob Sklaverei ein Gegenargument und nicht vielmehr eine Bedingung jeder höheren Cultur, jeder Erhöhung der Cultur sei...

[Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan, Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.168, translation modified; Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.155]

Thus, the disabilities of "woman's position in society" are virtues, not evils. And the same for slavery. Thus is the Left hoist on the petard of its own heroes and role models. The racism and anti-Semitism of Marx and Nietzsche are ignored, obscured, or excused, while Nietzsche's misogyny gets the same treatment. Nietzsche's endorsement of slavery, however, which should not surprise anyone honestly familiar with his thought, is something at the level of radioactivity, given the fierce self-righteousness and virulent fanaticism of the American Left about the history of slavery in America -- not that it was abolished, but that it ever existed -- and as though it had not existed anywhere else. The apparent ignorance and complacency of the modern student (and professor) about this testifies to the corruption, failure, and tendentiousness of modern "education."

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Moralistic Relativism, Note 3

While the French retained the name of the local Kingdom of Dahomey for their African colony, an independent Dahomey adopted the name of another African kingdom, Benin, to be its name as an independent country. Unfortunately, the original Benin still exists, and it is in Nigeria, not in "Benin." There is still a King of Benin, the "Oba," now in the person of Ewuare II.

The first country to become independent in West Africa, the British Gold Coast, in 1957, also adopted the name of an earlier kingdom, namely "Ghana," غَانَا. The historical Ghana, however, included none of the land of the Gold Coast. It lay north of the headwaters of the Niger River, on the south side of the Sahara Desert. It also converted to Islām, which theoretically made it immune from Arab slavers.

A French colony with a comparable name, the Ivory Coast, retained, its name after independence, although officially the French name, Côte d'Ivoire, is used.

The historical Benin is now party to a matter of some controversy. Benin was itself in the business of slavery, and in 1897 the British finally put it out of business. In the course of that, a great deal of artwork was seized, including the "Benin Bronzes," which were then scattered among the museums of the world, actually influencing a good bit of modern art.

As with a great deal of art excavated, purchased, seized, or looted during the colonial era, there has been a movement to "repatriate" the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. Some museums have already done some of this. However, a kind of difficulty has arisen. The bronzes might in principle go back to the heir of Benin, who would be the current Oba. But the Oba is actually already rich, very rich, and the bronzes, which are worth a fortune, would make him even richer. Worse, furthermore, is the bronze itself of the bronzes, which was obtained by Benin in the course of its slave trade. So the bronze of the bronzes is itself the fruit of slavery.

This has provoked objections among some Americans, descendants of slaves, who say that the bronzes are from the profits of slavery and that they should not be returned to those who profited off their slaving.

A non-profit organization called the "Restitution Study Group," wants to stop the "repatriation" of the bronzes, saying, “These are slave trade relics that are being returned to the heirs of the slave trade. They are rewarding slavery twice.” The organization is suing the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York to stop repatriations to Nigeria, after it has returned three bronzes already [cf. "Black group tells Met not to return king’s bronzes: ‘Slavery profits’," The New York Post, April 29, 2023].

The Smithsonian Institution has already also returned some artifacts to Nigeria -- while, of course, neither the MET nor the Smithsonian had anything to do with the original seizures, but simply bought them from the British.

While the Government of Nigeria is the official recipient of repatriations; that Government has officially declared that the Oba is “the rightful owner and custodian of the culture, heritage, and tradition of the people of Benin Kingdom.” This makes it sound like the Oba can claim the bronzes and add them to his riches.

This is the first time in public discourse that I have seen a group of people of African descent lay the institution of slavery and its profits at the feet of Africans rather than blaming just European (let alone Arab) slaver traders. More typical is that the traders are made out as the slavers, rather than the Africans who actually caught and sold the slaves. This made it an exercise in political self-righteousness rather than history, all with the purpose of extorting money from people whose ancestors had nothing to do with slavery -- unless it was as slaves themselves -- like the Slavs after whom slavery is named.

And, of course, there was nothing illegal or, to Africans or Muslims, immoral about slavery, until a bunch of do-gooder European, Christian colonialists came along and said it was wrong, putting their own slave traders, along with everyone else, out of business.

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Moralistic Relativism, Note 4

One of the strongest arguments of the Abolitionists was that it was religiously unlawful for Christians to hold other Christians as slaves. This goes back to Leviticus 25:39-43:

"And if your brother becomes poor beside you, and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave; he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a soujourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee; then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own family, and return to the possessions of his fathers. For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves."

This applies to all Christians on the principle that all Christians are Israel under the New Covenant, to whom the Laws of Israel apply.

The slave owners, of course, could always argue that not all the Laws of Israel are observed by Christians (e.g. circumcision), and the passage following the one above (Leviticus 25:44) justified their taking slaves in the first place:

"As for our male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you."

The argument was only settled, of course, by force, as the Union Army arrived to "bring the jubilee" -- as many Union war songs, such as Marching Through Georgia, put it.

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Moralistic Relativism, Note 5

Bill Clinton made state visits to Africa in 1998. Part of his plan was to apologize for the role of the United States in the existence of slavery and the slave trade. However, Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, one of the states visited, responded sharply to this, saying that the African chiefs who captured and sold the slaves were the ones who should apologize. They were "black traitors" who were more to blame than European slave traders. "I don't have time for that diversion or rubbish," he told the press:

African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologize it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.

Ἐγκλινοβάραγγος (Enklinobarangus), from news reports of May 23, 1998.

"A Need to Settle Accounts," by Tunku Vardarajan,
Review of Born in Blackness, by Howard W. French, The Wall Street Journal, January 29-30, 2022, p.C9

The title of Mr. Vardarajan's review, "A Need to Settle Accounts," would seem to imply that payments are due; and, indeed, the tenor of his piece is that a lot of money was made off of slaves and slavery and that somebody should be compensated for that. In other words: Reparations. In the political form of this, it looks like even people who had nothing to do with slavery, and who themselves were victims of oppression, genocide, or Mediaeval serfdom, owe money to the descendants of African slaves, and perhaps also to other people of African descent, even if they were never slaves. This is how the politics of victimhood works. Give me money.

Vardarajan knows who is good and who is evil -- in case we didn't know that slavery was bad and we need to recognize that all of those, in all of history, who tolerated slavery were morally depraved. We're only better now because we can be indignant over it. Vardarajan says that Howard French writes "with a steely and elegant indignation," "in... quiet but adamant righteousness," with the "strongest judgment," condemning "morally depraved, early capitalism." No oppressor gets out of this unvilified. The "role slaves played in creating America's prosperity" obviously justifies a bill to be paid. One might wonder, however, how much is owing for moral anachronism and self-righteousness. Or for slavery in Islāmic Law. Mr. French, a descendant of slaves himself, seems to be the sort of person with a chip on his shoulder for what are now ancient evils.

Of course, part of the ideology of the Left is that the evils of "inequality" now are the direct result of slavery in the past. However, it is well documented by Thomas Sowell and others that many social ills, like the breakdown of black families in America, and illegitimate births, are the result of the Welfare State, not of slavery, or even of the more recent Segregation regimes. Widespread illegitimacy is new, subsidized and so promoted by government, with a helpful ideological campaign that there is nothing shameful or bad about it. The "systemic racism" of Marxist "Critical Race Theory" always tends to mean, not surprisingly, Capitalism, or law enforcement, not the corrosive policies of welfare or affirmative action, or the abolition or corruption of educational standards. "Systemic racism" certainly doesn't mean systematic discrimination against South and East Asian students in the corrupt "diversity and inclusion" programs of elite univerities. No, that's OK, because Asians are "acting white" and sharing in "white privilege." Which means, among other things, they show up for work on time; and they can do the math.

For all the reparations claims, unfortunately, the prosperity that was created by "Big Cotton" in the United States was pretty much totally destroyed in the Civil War, leaving the South the poorest part of the country for decades, while the role played by the Africans themselves, of which President Museveni of Uganda has been well aware, as we see above, seems to be off the radar for Mr Vardarajan, and perhaps for Mr. French as well.

But, Vardarajan tells us, the roots go deeper. Apparently, all the capital needed for the Industrial Revolution was provided by the African slave trade, and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. So, it follows, the descendants of slaves (and others) are owed a return on the investment of that original capital. However, in such reckoning, the Africans get left out again.

The kingdoms of West Africa, who captured and sold the slaves to Europeans, already received the return for the slaves they sold. Perhaps they, many of which still exist within modern states, are the ones who owe the reparations. Or the Arabs, who began the trans-Saharan slave trade into West Africa in the first place, perhaps owe their share. They are the ones, as it happens, in whose hands the East African slave trade persisted, at least until after World War I, when the British finally suppressed it. That had been the wealth of the Sulṭān of Zanzibar. Slavery wasn't abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1963, and not until 1981 in Mauritania -- the last country in the world to abolish slavery. Not Mauritania, but certainly the Saudis, could afford significant payouts.

Meanwhile, when Britain and the United States abolished their slave trade in 1808, and Britain actively instituted naval patrols against it, the African states protested. They were doing just fine and didn't want it to end. Brazil still wanted slaves. We might even wonder if the income and wealth then lost to the African kingdoms made them vulnerable to later colonial takeovers. Can slavery actually have held off imperialism?

A telling passage is this one:

In the American colonies and, later, in the United States, slavery gave rise to Big Cotton, which Mr. French describes as “a unique fusion of book-keeping and brutality.” The “consensus estimate” on the number of Africans brought to the Americas, he says, hovers around 12 million. Lost in this “atrocious but far too neat accounting,” he adds, is the likelihood that another six million Africans were killed in the hunts that led to enslavement. By taking away so many millions of people, he argues, the slave trade wrecked Africa’s ability to compete with other parts of the world “at the very moment when human society was globalizing for the first time.” The later European Scramble for Africa and the curse of colonial cartography gave rise to 54 countries, many tiny, with haphazard borders thrust upon them by imperial whim.

By following "Big Cotton" with "12 million," we are given the impression that this was the number of slaves brought to the North American colonies. Since the vast majority of slaves went to Brazil and the Carribean, and only about 400,000 to North America, this is deceptive, perhaps deliberately so. When Abraham Lincoln said that the judgment of the Lord may have been to draw with the sword the equivalent of the blood drawn with the lash, the 700,000 dead of the Civil War can have effected that judgment most literally, with considerable interest.

Lost in this "atrocious accounting" is the certainty, not just the "likelihood," that all the millions, either captured or "killed in the hunts," were the victims of warring and slave-catching Africans. Europeans, who died like flies in the climate, did not engage in slaving expeditions into the Interior of Africa, whatever they showed us in Roots [1977]. This is how the African kingdoms made their money.

If the slave trade "wrecked Africa’s ability to compete with other parts of the world," by the mere numbers exported, this overlooks French's own argument that capital, not numbers, drove development. West Africa always had a lot more people than Portugal. And the African kingdoms got capital from the slave trade. That is why they did it. So if something "wrecked Africa’s ability to compete with other parts of the world," it was the failure of the kingdoms to invest their capital, not some kind of loss of their manpower.

There is a deeper misconception behind that. The Egyptians used tons of gold. But they didn't invest it in railroads or computers. Why not? Well, no one had thought of such things yet. So the gold got buried with Tutankhamon and others. This means that the value of metals or money is empty unless there are ideas and purposes behind it. Capital is ideas more than it is some medium of exchange. With nothing to exchange, the medium is meaningless.

Thus, the rich African kingdoms used their wealth for their own purposes. The Portuguese and later Europeans built ships to create international trade and later to create industrial production. Africans were part of that, but as individuals, not as kingdoms or private corporations. Readers of Moby Dick [1851] will remember that one of the three harpooners on the Pequod was a black African. Sailors were probably among the most racially integrated populations in the world. That is why, where the Union Army in the Civil War ended up 10% black, sailors in the Union Navy were actually 15% black -- such sailors were simply recuited from existing merchant sailors, without much military training. The training they needed, in seamanship, they already had gotten. Woodrow Wilson purged the Navy of blacks, one of the (many) great racist stains on his Presidency -- something about him we didn't hear much about until recently, as (liberal) historians kept telling us what a great President he was.

So the complaint of Mr. French that Africans were somehow denied their place in the modern world economy, on the basis that their numbers were decimated or that they were somehow denied the use of capital or deprived of compensation for their labor, misses the point on both points. The African kingdoms had their capital. What they were missing was the ideas for what to do with it. They were not alone in that. Karl Marx figured that when the British finished building railroads, they would have nothing else to do with their money. This would lead to the collapse of Capitalism. Marx, of course, never ran a business, let alone created one. Al Gore has done much better getting rich off of his own self-righteous environmentalism.

Marx's attitude and ignorance is still not unusual, anywhere. Many people at all times think that everything that can be invented, has been invented. And politicians in democracies actually villify those successful in business. Envy can be sold to larger numbers of voters. We cannot fault the Africans for not conceiving of new industries, since very, very few Europeans or Americans have ever done that either. But those few make all the difference. Paying slaves for their labor might have enabled the rare few to be entrepreneurial or live economically creative lives. But they could never have been paid in ideas rather than in money, and that is what was lacking in African culture -- as in any other culture that has been content with traditional ways. We can tell this, in part, because of the history of Ethiopia. The proud mountain kingdom maintained its own culture and its independence over the centuries, despite the constant depredations of Arab slavers around it. Then the Portuguese helped fend off Muslims reinforced by Ottoman Turkey (Mr. French may leave that out). But there was no Industrial Revolution in Ethopia.

The final shot in Mr. Vardarajan's incoherent paragraph is the statement, "The later European Scramble for Africa and the curse of colonial cartography gave rise to 54 countries, many tiny, with haphazard borders thrust upon them by imperial whim." The "curse of colonial cartography," however, consolidated what would have been even many more "tiny" African kingdoms and tribes. This is why the colonial boundaries have not been altered, since the African states know that disintegration theatens them all. So Vardarajan has entirely the wrong idea and is blaming Europeans for something they actually made better.

Perhaps Vardarajan does not remember Biafra, which sought independence from Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. This revolt was because the Ibo (or Igbo) people of Biafra, who were economically and educationally advanced over the rest of Nigeria, were being discriminated against by the less successful majority ethnic groups of Nigeria. Today, Nigeria is in turn victimized by the large Muslim Hausa population of the North, for whom terrorism and the murder and kidnapping of Christians is standard operating procedure. The government disarms targeted villages and then fails to protect them against the terrorists. The name of the terrorist group Boko Haram means "education is forbidden." Is this what "African culture" is supposed to mean? Meanwhile, the Ibo carry their business skills to America. And two of the best students I ever had were Ibos from Nigeria.

Biafra was conquered by the Nigerian government; but in East Africa we still have Somaliland, which has been independent since 1991. When Somalia became a "failed state" and collapsed into anarchy, what had been British Somaliland in the North and had been united in decolonization with Italian Somaliland in the South, went its own way under its own government. No Americans died (as in Mogadishu) trying to put Somaliland back together. It was already together and has remained so for more than thirty years. However, despite unofficial relationships, not a single country in the world has recognized the government-in-being of Somaliland. This tells us how much the established countries of Africa recoil from redrawing the colonial boundaries sanctified at independence.

Several African countries are facing dismemberment from dissident areas much like Somaliland -- even as Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia (also in 1991) and has even been internationally recognized (in 1993), despite being a haven for terrorists. Meanwhile, the anarchy of the remaining parts of Somalia spawned piracy in the Indian Ocean, which the Powers have had difficulty suppressing -- while shipping companies fail to provide the simple weapons that would enable merchant and other private ships to repel the small and silly speedboat pirates who threaten them. How absurd that got is evident in the 2013 Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips, where nothing worse than water hoses could be used in defense of the large ship. A Napoleonic musket would have driven off the pirates.

The other issues that come up in Mr. Vardarajan's article go back to his ignorance about the nature of capital. The same mistake is made with ancient Athens, whose prosperity is often attributed to the Laurion silver mines rather than to the commercial culture of the city. This was also why the flood of silver from the Americas to Spain ended up in the hands of the Dutch, who, in a poor, flooded country, were able to successfully revolt against Spain -- the greatest power of the age. In Spain itself, an abundance of silver simply meant the inflation of prices. The Spanish, after expelling productive Jews and Muslims, looked down on business. The result was a long decline.

Therefore, almost everything that Mr. Vardarajan, and Mr. French behind him, say is based on misconceptions, if not deceptions. Self-righteousness does not make for wisdom; and while Mr. French complains that the contribution of Africans is left out of world history, he cannot say that such contributions involved any economic innovations that helped in the advance of modernity. These writers present an Africa where native kingdoms didn't exist and where the money they made off the slave trade didn't exist -- but is now owing to them. The authors' neglect of Africans commits their own sin, which is supposed to be the neglect of Africans; and because of that they cannot say why the African kingdoms, rich off of slavery, didn't use their wealth the way the Portuguese or later the Dutch or English did. That does not fit the narrative of wrong and oppression (which exempts Africans), or their case for a jackpot windfall payout now -- money that would pass through the hands of recipients mostly the way the silver did through Spanish hands.



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Moralistic Relativism, Note 6

Καὶ ὅταν στήκητε προσευχόμενοι, ἀφίετε εἴ τι ἔχετε κατά τινος· ἵνα καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς ἀφῇ ὑμῖν τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν.

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against anyone: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions.

Mark 11:25

"A Tangled American Family Tree," by Jane Kamensky,
Review of The Grimkes, by Kerri K. Greenidge, The Wall Street Journal, December 3-4, 2022, pp.C7-8

This review of a book about the Grimke family gives us some good examples of the language and attitudes that now characterize academic treatments of slavery. The reviewer, Jane Kamensky, is a professor of history at Harvard, no less, and "the faculty director of Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library." You cannot get any more Establishment than that. In turn, Kerri Greenidge is a professor of "Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora," in the Department of "Studies in Race Colonialism and Diaspora" at Tufts University. Such terminology itself packs within it a lot of ideology already.

The article begins with a minor but perhaps telling problem. Kamensky, mentioning a poem by Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958), used by Greenidge, that was written "amid the pervasive racial terror that marked post-Reconstruction America." Kamensky says that the poem was written "almost exactly a hundred years ago," which means in the early 1920's, when, with the help of Woodrow Wilson, the Ku Klux Klan had been widely revived. We could easily say that was an era of "pervasive racial terror," until the Klan lost its force in the North and was even suppressed in some Southern jurisdictions, although its presence and spirit lingered through most of the South.

The issue, however, is whether "pervasive racial terror" had indeed characterized American life during all of "post-Reconstruction America." That leaves out a lot of history, like when President Grant, during Reconstruction, suppressed the original Klan by way of martial law and other strategems. It took a while, even after Reconstrucction, for the South to gather itself and institute the system of Segregation that itself could easily be called a regime of "racial terror." But in many places that took until the 1890's, and we can quickly see its effects, as black people began to flee the South and move North -- and we do not see the Supreme Court rule that Segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment until Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The student would probably need to be reading Thomas Sowell, not Kamensky or Greenidge, to find out about that. Which is the point.

Also relevant to current debates was the institution of "gun control" in the South to disarm black citizens, many of whom inherited the guns kept by black soldiers who had been in the Union Army. Since black citizens had a right to "keep and bear arms," and were ex officio members of the national Militia, the Militia itself was unconstitutionally disestablished and replaced by the National Guard in 1903. This evil, motivated by racism, continues until today. But it is never mentioned, or called "racism," now, is it? Nor is the National Rifle Association ever credited with fighting for the rights of black gun owners, as it did, is it? Instead, what we see is the police state program to disarm all citizens, so that they can be terrorized by criminals, anarchists, and, these days, the FBI. The real racism and tyranny in all this is concealed by the smokescreen of ideology put up by people like Kamensky and Greenidge.

So, what we see in Kamensky's review is a subtle but "pervasive" bias, whose purpose is essentially anti-American and totalitarian. More conspicious are features of the language Kamensky uses and the attitudes it betrays -- not only its vicious political purposes but in the nauseating self-righteousness that seems "pervasively" characteristic of Leftist thought. The tendentious language used is always to foster guilt, and the most damning charge that Kamensky can ever make against anyone is that they have been insufficiently guilty and contrite. It is hard to tell how far Kamensky and Greenidge themselves are exempt from that, or that they merely revel in making the charge against others and, of course, America -- a "sweeping, pitiless and revelatory history of race in America." We can be sure of the "pitiless," if not the "revelatory," part. Apart from the moral failing of these attitudes, anachronism is a professional failing in the principles of historians. But no self-righteousness is so intense these days as anachronistic self-righteousness.

The Grimke family of South Carolina "claimed ownership of nearly 700 men, women and children, and formally manumitted only two." In this information about the wealth of the Grimke family, we are reminded here of two shortcomings, one that they only "claimed ownership," since we know now that no ownership of slaves was legitimate (in case the reader has forgotten), and next that they must have been cruel and heartless since they only ever manumitted two slaves -- which, by the way, after 1841 could not be manumitted in South Carolina. We will have further evidence of their cruelty in a moment -- but we also might note that Kamensky obviously doesn't agree with Nietzsche's principle that all "higher civilization" is a function of cruelty and, by the way, slavery. We might ask her.

First, however, we might note that the particular target of moral judgment in all this is not the family in general but two particular daughters: Sarah Moore Grimké (1792-1873) and Angelina Emily Grimké Weld (1805-1879). Kamensky, at least, has dispensed with the acute accent on the surname. It is possible she has made this choice because the accent indicates that the Grimkés were Huguenots and thus refugees from religious persecution, which might humanize them too much in relation to the ineradicable sin of owning slaves. Can't have that.

The sin of the sisters, in a sense, was that they fled the South to Philadelphia and became, not just prominent Abolitionists, but advocates for women's rights also. In this they became "'exiles from their own class' of elite Charleston enslavers." One might think that this would make them great heroes to the politically correct today. Not a chance. They cannot live down the sin of their birth or their relatives. They cannot represent, as they were previously thought to be, a great "moral example."

Thus, earlier biographies of the sisters illegitimately "absolved white Southern women of racial guilt [sic] because of their supposed economic and social subordination to slaveholding white men." Of course, not all white Southern women fled to Philadelphia and became Abolitionists. But that doesn't make a difference here. "There is no such absolution in 'The Grimkes'." Instead, "racial guilt" sticks like a leech even to the Abolitionist sisters -- who perhaps should have committed suicide in atonement. And, after all, these sisters, like all "White abolitionists," apparently, "tended to personalize slavery, prizing benevolence, especially their own, and working for redemption." How dare they.

So, let's see, Abolitionism was somehow illegitimate because it was based on "benevolence," on religious redemption, and the consciousness of the Abolitionists in their own benevolence, i.e. self-righteousness. Well, we never see that anywhere else! Whether the Grimke sisters were really as self-righteous as Kamensky or Greenidge, I really couldn't say. Christians really shouldn't be self-righteous, aware of the "log" in their own eye [Matthew 7:3], although, of course, many are -- but not as much, I venture, as the politically correct and Leftist ideologues.

Kamensky quotes Greenidge saying that "To a young Sarah Grimke, 'Black people themselves were mere objects within the constellation of sin'," and Sarah acted as if "the formerly enslaved existed purely for [her] redemption." Perhaps Kamensky and Greenidge are unfamliar with Christian doctrine that all are sinners. Serious Christians always work for their redemption; and one wonders how Greenidge can be certain that Sarah thought that freeing slaves existed only for her own redemption. On the other hand, it definitely looks like Kamensky and Greenich see the history of slavery as something that exists only for their own political purposes, which is to destroy the institutions of America, so that all can be slaves of the State. That is, after all, the goal of Marxist Critical Race Theory.

Kamensky writes with some certainty that:

The Grimke sisters' "racial complicity" was rooted in their childhood, in a world both of affluence and violence. Their parents claimed ownership of nearly 700 men, women and children, and formally manumitted only two. The wealth amassed via those battered black bodies underwrote the sisters' possibilities, including ltheir ability to escape. This they could not see, any more than they could fully confront the brutality of their monstrous brother Henry.

Now, one might think it poetically, and even morally, fitting that some of the wealth generated by slavery should have been redirected to the cause of abolishing slavery. But that is not the moral universe of Kamensky and Greenidge. Whatever the sisters did -- and perhaps they are being accused of creating some "battered black bodies" of their own -- because of the stain of racial sin on them, from their birth, we now see them as insufficiently contrite and expressive of their racial guilt. They were just in it, after all, for themselves, so, I suppose, their Abolitionism is a fraud. Sackcloth and ashes, and no pretence of benevolence or redemption, is what we should see from them.

But to me it looks like Kamensky and Greenidge borrow a premise from the slave holders. People are born to their condition. Denying this is probably why these days we don't see the word "slave" used much. Slaves themselves have become "enslaved persons," and slave owners are "enslavers" (as we have just seen). But to "enslave" is an active verb, and it implies that someone has taken a free person and made them a slave. That is certanly what the slavers, who generally were all Africans themselves (except for Arab slavers), did in Africa. But slaves in the Americas were generally born into their condition, which means they had never been free.

Now, one can say that morally every human being is born free, which would mean that slave owners indeed "enslaved" the newborns of existing slaves. But there is an ambiguity there, in which slave owners are morally equal to the actual slavers back in Africa. This, of course, increases their guilt, which is the goal of all Leftist moral discourse. Otherwise, it was the law that made people slaves at birth, as the principle had been for centuries under both Roman and Islāmic Slave Law. Indeed, in Greek there were different words for those born slaves, δοῦλοι (singular δοῦλος), and those made slaves after birth, ἀνδράποδα (singular ἀνδράποδον, in the neuter), particularly when captured in war.

We may righteously object to that difference, but there is a certain anachronistic perversity in assuming the guilt of everyone who had merely accepted the principles of Roman and Islāmic Law -- Islāmic Slave Law that, by the way, still exists and is invoked and applied by ISIS, Boko Haram, and other radical Islamic groups today. What do Kamensky and Greenidge think about them? Good luck getting any confession of guilt there. And, of course, criticizing Islāmic Law, the Shārīʿah, is itself "Islamophobia" and racism. Kamensky and Greenidge wouldn't want to be caught dead there.

So the principle of slave owners that the newborns of slaves are already slaves is now translated by Kamensky and Greenich into the principle that the infant children of slave owners themselves already suffer "racial guilt" and grow up bearing the stain of "racial complicity." Simply becoming Abolitionists and fighting against slavery is no help -- they must have been battering some "black bodies" along the way. Indeed, we know better, that the Grimke sisters were only doing it for selfish reasons. Unlike us. They express insufficient guilt for their upbringing and its privileges. "They never acknowledged their complicity in the slave system they so eloquently spoke against," where we seem to have redefined "complicity" to apply to children who could know no better, or to adults who abandon the "system" as soon as they perceive its evils. These are novel interpretations of the term.

A better argument might be made that Kamensky and Greenidge are themselves "complicit" in the discrimination against Asian students at American universities. What have they done about that? In fact, I bet that they are all for it. Those Asians are just "acting white," and there are too many of them; so their numbers, like the Jews, should be limited. And we now know that Jews are guilty for the "colonialist settler state" of Israel, and so deserved to be raped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered by the "resistance" fighters of Ḥamās. Let's see Kamensky and Greenich contradict that.

So we may begin to get the drift here. Guilt is what matters. And the stain of sin is ineradicable, unless someone forget their Christianity and enter into the mentality of a Maoist "struggle session" (批鬥大會, pīdòu dàhuì), where we can pummel them, perhaps literally, for their crimes. Unfortunately, since the Grimke sisters, "blinkered benevolents," who grossly failed to condemn the evils of the 1890's or 1920's, died in the 1870's, they are a little outside our reach and our jurisdiction. But, metaphorically, they can still be pummeled -- which will at least serve as a warning to others, who might consider some politically incorrect opinions.

And then there is "the brutality of their monstrous brother Henry," who had bought his own slave, Nancy Weston, after his white wife had died, and had three children by her, whom he willed to his white son, "who nearly equaled his father in viciousness," although we get no details about how father or son were actually brutal or vicious, apart from owning or fathering slaves. However, Henry, who was prohibited by an 1841 South Carolina law from freeing his "enslaved" sons, or from marrying Nancy, directed that they "be treated as members of the family," although, apparently, they really weren't. So there is viciousness in that.

One of Henry's sons by Nancy, Francis, would himself move to Philadelphia, where he married into a wealthy, Abolitionist black family, the Fortens. And as we know, black Abolitionists were more righteous than the white ones, since they were not in it just for selfish "benevolence." They were, as Kamensky says, "stucturalists," or "institution builders," which, I suppose the Grimke sisters were not. Of course, as I note elsewhere, it is perhaps not surprising that Leftist writers should exalt social "structure" over individual attitudes, since in Marxism social structures are all, and individual attitudes merely reflect them.

A brother of Francis, Archibald Henry Grimké (1849-1930), ended up Boston, where he married a white woman, Sarah Stanley. Their daughter, Angelina "Nana" Weld Grimké, whom we have met above, seems to be the person, out of the whole family, in whom Jane Kamensky and Kerri Greenidge are the most interested. She leads the review, and she is the only person whose image is featured in the article. She became an accomplished writer and poet and civil rights activist. While the Grimke sisters had died before Angelina was even born, we get the feeling that they owed her something, perhaps in compensation for the behavior of their brother, who was Angelina's grandfather. We do learn that when the sisters found out about the history of their nephews, they were insufficiently guilty and apologetic about their treatment, reflecting that "our work is in the present." Just as we might expect from such selfish reprobates.

Writing in 1967, Gerda Lerner [biographer of the Grimke sisters] felt she knew what that effort should look like. It must plumb the intersections of black and female experience, and nourish alliances across race. More than 50 years later, Ms. Greenidge finds a different moral, a story that highlights "the limits of interracial alliances when it comes to the eradication of deeply entrenched white supremacist violence and policy." The history she has excavated with such patience and authority offers reasons to share her despair.

Of course, "deeply entrenched white supremacist violence and policy" means, in the first place, for people like this, captialism, and, in the second place, law enforcement. The economic success of, say Asian-Americans, in the face of an actual history of discrimination and violence, is irrelevant -- including discrimination by Ivy League universities against Asian (and Jewish) applicants. And the violence of criminals against the minority residents of their own neighborhoods is also irrelevant. All that counts are the occasional suspects killed by police, whether justified or not.

Since this is all fraudulent and dishonest, the "despair" of Kerri Greenidge is simply that the public doesn't buy into her ideology, however responsive the Ruling Class of academics, politicians, the press, and corporate drones are to it. The true danger, as far too many people still vote for Democrats, is that the Ruling Class is increasingly empowered, and all their lust for censorship and a police state is free to grow. The intriguing history of the Grimkes is thus itself, like so much else, a smokescreen, hiding the true agenda and intentions of people like Greenidge and Kamensky, tyrants at heart -- continuing the trahison des clercs identified by Julien Benda (1867-1956) in 1927.



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