Can Nietzsche support a decent political philosophy?

Nietzsche's anti-moralism is a key theme in his philosophy and civilizational criticism. He regarded traditional European morality as "herd morality", the deplorable consequence of Christian values of subordination and ressentiment. It is hard enough to find in Beyond Good and Evil or Genealogy of Morals a basis for criticizing even the most grotesque examples of interpersonal brutality and violence, and …

Machiavelli and the totalitarian state

Isaiah Berlin's essay on Machiavelli in Against the Current is penetrating and detailed, valuable both for the specialist and the general philosophical reader. Berlin demonstrates an uncanny knowledge of the range of interpretations and criticisms that have been offered for the ideas presented in The Prince and the many wildly contradictory interpretations that have arisen. Was Machiavelli an amoral …

Carlyle’s critique of modernity

What is wrong with life in the modern world? The complaint that modern society represents a toxic reduction of the importance of community in the lives of individuals is a familiar one. One version of this critique is the idea is that modern society has replaced all personal bonds and relationships with a single "cash …

Durkheim’s social holism

Emile Durkheim is celebrated for many achievements in the founding of the discipline of sociology, but most striking is his endorsement of the autonomy and irreducibility of the social realm to individual motivation, action, or psychology. "Social facts are things, irreducible to individual psychology." Durkheim was, we are often told, a social holist. This is …

Atrocious and evil — Russian aggressive war in Ukraine

The moment has come, after months of insistent, indignant jabber from Vladimir Putin that he has no intention of invading Ukraine: Russian forces have invaded Ukraine across a broad front. This act by Vladimir Putin and his military is atrocious in precisely the way that Adolph Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939 was atrocious. In …

Alexander Herzen’s radical liberalism

image: Meissonier, Massacre during June Days, 1848, Paris Alexander Herzen's From the Other Shore (1850) is an exceptionally important example of an intelligent observer trying to make sense of the social, economic, and political changes of the nineteenth century. And Isaiah Berlin's introduction is profound. (Here is an online version of the book; link.) Herzen's writings represented an …

Thomas Carlyle on government and England’s poor

Thomas Carlyle was an acerbic conservative social thinker, given to assuming the fundamental legitimacy of social and political hierarchies and hostile to democracy. A re-reading of Chartism (1839) shows that he also possessed a white-hot anger at England's indifference to the conditions of the poor, and he raged against Parliament, which whistled while catastrophe loomed. …

Silence about the Holocaust after 1945

Image: Holocaust memorial at Camp Westerbork, The Netherlands Each of the great evils of the twentieth century -- the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Gulag -- was shrouded in silence and concealment for decades after information became available to the world. In the case of the Gulag, the Soviet government exercised great effort to keep the …

Poetry in remembrance of the Shoah

Theodor Adorno wrote that “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." But there are good reasons not to agree with Adorno. There is a body of powerful, respectful, and penetrating poetry that has been written in reflection upon the Holocaust. And these works are another valid way for non-participants in the evils of the Holocaust …

Frankl and Shalamov on existence in the camps

Image: Viktor Frankl Image: Varlam Shalamov, NKVD photoViktor Frankl, born in Austria in 1905, had the tragic misfortune to be swept up into the maelstrom of the Final Solution. He was an impactful psychotherapist, both before and after the war, and his experience in Auschwitz and other Nazi camps had a deep impact on his …

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