I have a co-authored article (in English) forthcoming in a Polish academic journal. My co-author is Przemysław Zientkowski of Nicholas Copernicus University. Dr. Zientkowski has just published a book (in Polish) on the critique of human rights in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. So if your Polish is up to speed, check it out.
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This post lists 71 interesting facts about Tennessee Williams, in honor of the 71 years of his life.
Item 19 is: “I don’t believe in individual guilt. I don’t think people are responsible for what they do. We are products of circumstances that determine what we do. That’s why I think capital punishment’s an outrage.”
Williams was a playwright and not a logician, but still: If people aren’t responsible for what they do, then that includes those administering capital punishment. So if one is a determinist, then it makes no sense to be outraged by capital punishment. One has to believe that circumstances lead some people to be murderers and rapists and others to be executioners.
Of course one can reply that circumstances have conditioned one to be outraged by the death penalty, but one would also have to grant equal status to those conditioned to be in favor of it.
The general point: Environmental determinism undercuts any value judgments.
Side note: Item 53 says that Anton Chekhov was a major influence on Williams, Chekhov being “a literary sensibility to which I felt a very close affinity.” That makes sense, given that Williams represents a further position on the spectrum of human pessimism and despair. I’m reminded of Professor Nina Baym’s summary of Williams’s work:
“We are less concerned over contemporary criticisms of Williams’s plays for their violence and their obsession with sexuality, which in some of the later work was regarded by some critics as an almost morbid preoccupation with ‘perversion’ — murder, rape, drugs, incest, nymphomania. We now know that the shriller voices making such accusations were attacking Williams for his homosexuality, which, we must remember, could not be publicly spoken of in this country until comparatively recently. These topics, however, also figure as instances of his deeper subject, the themes of desire and loneliness. As he said in an interview, ‘Desire is rooted in a longing for companionship, a release from the loneliness that haunts every individual.’ Loneliness and desire propel his characters into extreme behavior, no doubt, but such behavior literally dramatizes the plight that Williams saw as universal.” (Nina Baym et al. eds., The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 3rd edition, 1989, p. 2148.)
Note the descriptors of Williams’s universe: violence, obsession, morbid, perversion, murder, rape, drugs, incest, nymphomania, loneliness, plight, and so on.
Posted 4 months, 1 week ago at 10:12 am. 2 comments
Anton Chekhov is a great writer, in large part because he follows ruthlessly a principle of selectivity named after him: “Chekhov’s gun” is principle of writing that says that every element in a narrative must be essential and irreplaceable, and anything that is neither must be eliminated.
But I don’t like reading Chekhov. I read Three Sisters in a theatre course in college and remember respecting the directness of the writing but not the story. At the time I read a few other short stories and had the same impression. Since then I have never returned to Chekhov for pleasure.
I was reminded why by the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose describes some of his music as inspired by Chekhovian themes:
“I remember that once I accidentally came across Chekhov’s thoughts on how the Russian man only lives a real life until he’s thirty. We rush when we’re young, we think everything is ahead, we hurry, pouncing on everything. We fill our soul with whatever comes our way. But after thirty our soul is filled with gray rubbish. That’s amazingly true.”
And this: “Chekhov also said that Russia is a land of greedy and lazy people who eat and drink prodigious amounts and like to sleep during the day and snore while they sleep. People marry in Russia to keep order in the house, and take mistresses for social prestige. Russians have the mentality of a dog — when they’re beaten, they whimper softly and hide in the corner, and when they’re scratched behind the ear, they roll over.”
Chekhov may or may not be a good journalist or sociologist of the Russian character. I don’t know. But these are assertions by an artist. And I am sure, as Chekhov was sure, that there are at least some Russians whose lives after thirty are vital and colorful, and that some Russians fight for their principles, eat healthily, and marry for love.
But in his writings Chekhov chooses not to focus on them. Instead, as in Three Sisters, he writes of a spinster who never found love, a cuckold, the bad-tempered woman who cuckolded him, a man with a low-end job and hopeless debts stuck raising a child, and so on.
An artist’s decision consistently to focus on the disappointments, failures, and betrayals in life — when he knows that satisfaction, success, and loyalty are possible — where does that choice come from?
It is a choice: The artist is free to do whatever he wants in his writings. The artist is a god — in his work, an artist decides who lives and who dies, who is successful and who fails, what goals his characters adopt or avoid, and so on. Those choices have to come from the artist’s judgment about what is most importantly true.
As consumers of art, our responses are also about importance. We don’t read 19th-century Russian literature primarily to learn about 19th-century Russia — history books and old newspapers can give us that. Instead, we read literature that uses, say, 19th-century Russia as a vehicle for experiencing important truths about the human condition. If the author’s assessment of the human condition affirms your own, you respond positively to the experience — you feel intellectual and emotional affirmation. If not, you feel alienation; the work may contain elements of interest, but the overall effect will be neutral or negative.
 Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Harper and Row, 1979, p. 180.
 Ibid., p. 179.
Posted 4 months, 2 weeks ago at 8:33 am. 4 comments
I’m reading Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. A character comments:
“Everyone must have one thing that they can excel at. It’s just a matter of drawing it out, isn’t it? But school doesn’t know how to draw it out. It crushes the gift. It’s no wonder most people never get to be what they want to be. They just get ground down.” (p. 192) Sadly true of many education systems.
Hard-Boiled is a dystopian novel about personal identity and artificial intelligence set in Japan’s near future. Its mystery element makes it an engaging read, though its emotional atmosphere of abstracted impersonality is not to my taste. Murakami’s anonymous lead character explains himself indirectly through his choice of leisure reading material:
“I felt a new sympathy for [Turgenev's] protagonist Rudin. I almost never identify with anybody in Dostoevsky, but the characters in Turgenev’s old-fashioned novels are such victims of circumstance, I jump right in. I have a thing about losers. Flaws in oneself opens you up to others with flaws. Not that Dostoevsky’s characters don’t generate pathos, but they’re flawed in ways that don’t come across as faults. And while I’m on the subject, Tolstoy’s characters’ faults are so epic and out of scale, they’re as static as backdrops.” (p. 163)
The remark about Dostoevsky is very perceptive, as is the paragraph’s general point about aesthetic response as self-affirmation.
[Related: Autonomy as a human need.]
Posted 5 months, 1 week ago at 9:04 pm. 2 comments
The Spanish translation of my essay is by Walter Jerusalinsky and published online at Idóneos e-magazine.
The essay was first published in English as “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf] in the Journal of Private Enterprise. It’s also available at the Social Science Research Network (where it was for awhile on SSRN’s “Top Ten” list of papers in the Entrepreneurship Research & Policy Network), in an e-book edition at Amazon, and in Serbo-Croatian [pdf] translation.
A PDF of the Spanish translation can also be downloaded here: “Lo que la Ética Empresarial Puede Aprender del Emprendimiento.”
Many thanks to Walter Jerusalinsky for his efforts.
Posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago at 1:10 pm. Add a comment
“Lo que la Ética Empresarial Puede Aprender del Emprendimiento.” [HTML] [PDF]
Stephen R.C. Hicks
Departamento de Filosofía y Centro para la Ética y el Emprendimiento
Rockford University, Illinois, USA
Publicado por primera vez en The Journal of Private Enterprise 24(2), 2009, 49-57.
Traducido al Español por Walter Jerusalinsky, Idóneos, 2013.
Resumen: El emprendimiento se está estudiando cada vez más como un fenómeno económico fundamental y fundacional. Sin embargo, ha recibido menos atención como fenómeno ético. Gran parte de la ética empresarial contemporánea asume que sus propósitos centrales en el campo de aplicación consisten en (1) detener las prácticas depredadorasen los negocios y (2) fomentar la filantropía y la caridad por medio de las empresas. Ciertamente la depredación es inmoral y la caridad encuentra su lugar en la ética, pero ninguna de las dos cosas debe ser su primera preocupación. En cambio, la ética empresarial debería fundamentarse en los valores y las virtudes de los emprendedores, es decir, esos individuos productivos y responsables por sí mismos que crean valor e intercambian con otras personas para mutuo beneficio, ganar/ganar.
Posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago at 12:10 pm. Add a comment
This is the sixth and final chapter of the audiobook version of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.
Connecting epistemology to politics [mp3] [YouTube]
Masks and rhetoric in language [mp3] [YouTube]
When theory clashes with fact [mp3] [YouTube]
Kierkegaardian postmodernism [mp3] [YouTube]
Reversing Thrasymachus [mp3] [YouTube]
Using contradictory discourses as a political strategy [mp3] [YouTube]
Machiavellian postmodernism [mp3] [YouTube]
Machiavellian rhetorical discourses [mp3] [YouTube]
Deconstruction as an educational strategy [mp3] [YouTube]
Ressentiment postmodernism [mp3] [YouTube]
Nietzschean ressentiment [mp3] [YouTube]
Foucault and Derrida on the end of man [mp3] [YouTube]
Ressentiment strategy [mp3] [YouTube]
Post-postmodernism [mp3] [YouTube]
Chapter One: What Postmodernism Is [mp3] [YouTube] [38 minutes]
Chapter Two: The Counter-Enlightenment Attack on Reason [mp3] [YouTube] [72 minutes]
Chapter Three: The Twentieth-Century Collapse of Reason [mp3] [YouTube] [50 minutes]
Chapter Four: The Climate of Collectivism [mp3] [YouTube] [102 minutes]
Chapter Five: The Crisis of Socialism [mp3] [YouTube] [74 minutes total]
The Explaining Postmodernism page.
Posted 6 months, 2 weeks ago at 8:35 am. 2 comments
Those of us in the democratic-republican West often find it impossible to understand how the world could go to war so often in the 20th century. We were raised in a culture that had internalized Locke, Jefferson, Mill, and others — for whom the goal of peace and respect for others’ rights to life, liberty, and property were fundamental. We (still) have little-to-no grasp of an alien modern ideology that makes conflict and waging war fundamental to its cultural health.
For the German National Socialists and the Italian Fascists, for example, war was natural, normal, and essential to a nation’s progress. How did they come to believe that?
Part of the story is intellectual: National Socialists and Fascists admired Nietzsche’s positive philosophy, for example — this earlier post collects several quotations from Nietzsche on the necessity and desirability of war. And between Nietzsche (who was no longer functioning intellectually after 1889) and the Nazis (who assumed power in 1933) were many prominent German intellectuals — historians, sociologists, political theorists, jurists — including Werner Sombart, Moeller van den Bruck, Ernst Junger, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt — whose advocacy of the authoritarian state shaped a generation’s thinking.
Werner Sombart’s 1915 Händler und Helden (Merchants and Heroes) is representative. Sombart was early an admirer of Karl Marx, though he drifted to the right after repeatedly being disappointed when the communist revolution failed to materialize. Merchants and Heroes contrasts two types — the merchant (represented in his era by the English) and the hero (represented by the Germans). Merchants are of a lower order: they are calculating, interested in profit, money, and the physical comforts of life. Heroes, by contrast, are of higher historical significance, motivated by the ideal of the great deed and sacrifice for a noble calling. Early in Händler und Helden Sombart explains his purpose: “at issue in this war are the merchant and the hero, the mercantile and heroic Weltanschauung, and the culture that pertains to each. The reason why I am trying, by means of these terms, to isolate a profound and comprehensive antagonism between world-views and experiences of the world is the subject of the following analysis.”
Here is Rohan d’O. Butler’s 1942 summary of Sombart’s views: “Before 1914 all the true German ideals of heroic life were in deadly danger before the continuous advance of English commercial ideals, English comfort, and English sport. The English people had not only themselves become completely corrupted, every trade-unionist being sunk in the ‘morass of comfort,’ but they had begun to infect all other peoples. Only the war had helped the Germans to remember that they were really a people of warriors, a people among whom all activities and particularly all economic activities were subordinated to military ends. Sombart knew that the Germans were held in contempt by other people because they regard war as sacred — but he glories in it. To regard war as inhuman and senseless is a product of commercial views. There is a life higher than the individual life, the life of the people and the life of the state, and it is the purpose of the individual to sacrifice himself for the higher life. War is to Sombart the consummation of the heroic view of life, and the war against England is the war against the opposite ideal, the commercial ideal of individual freedom and of English comfort, which in his eyes finds its most contemptible expression in—the safety razors found in the English trenches.”
Sombart has in mind Englishmen such as Richard Cobden and John Stuart Mill. Here is Cobden in 1835: “The middle and industrious classes of England can have no interest apart from the preservation of peace. The honours, the fame, the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered with the blood of the people.”
And here is Mill: “It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which are in natural opposition to it.” Mill again: “Finally, commerce first taught nations to see with good will the wealth and prosperity of one another. Before, the patriot, unless sufficiently advanced in culture to feel the world his country, wished all countries weak, poor, and ill-governed, but his own: he now sees in their wealth and progress a direct source of wealth and progress to his own country. It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which are in natural opposition to it. And it may be said without exaggeration that the great extent and rapid increase of international trade, in being the principal guarantee of the peace of the world, is the great permanent security for the uninterrupted progress of the ideas, the institutions, and the character of the human race” (Principles of Political Economy, Book III, Chapter XVII, Section 14).
Despicable, believed Sombart. The German way of war will cleanse humanity and raise it to a sacred height.
Rohan d’O. Butler, The Roots of National Socialism, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. (1942), pp. 170-171.
Sombart is part of the story told in “The Crisis of Socialism” [pdf] which is Chapter 5 of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.
Quotations on German Militarism, which is Appendix 4 to Nietzsche and the Nazis.