Monday, January 18, 2016

On the Overweening Pride of the Professorial Class

In a recent essay in Partisan Magazine, Daniel Brown argues that the decline of the humane disciplines has come about through an envy of the physical sciences and, in particular, the impossible desire to replicate the kind of revolutionary insights that have given those sciences their prestige in the modern age. Brown accounts for this decline etiologically. First came a handful of great scientific discoveries, from Copernicus to Newton to Darwin, each of which genuinely counted as a discovery because it was founded on a falsifiable hypothesis; given time enough, each could be tested and verified by all respectable inquirers.

Then came the fall. Karl Marx’s historical materialism, inspired though it was by the transcendental idealism of Hegel, was articulated as a new science. Of course, Hegel had conceived of his work as a science in important ways as well, but what Brown sees—and I think he is right to see it—is that Marxism, with its sweeping, non-falsifiable ideological claims, sought to appropriate the newly acquired prestige of the sciences for its own ends. Given the roots of Marx’s own thinking in the German tradition, the temptation to do so must have originated in a fairly irresistible logical deduction. Since Kant, the material world that was the subject of modern science was understood to be wholly lawful, that is to say, determined. It was only in the realm of spirit that freedom could exist. Marx asserted that only matter was real. All the apparently free activities of human culture must therefore actually be reducible to a material sub-structure, and so should be subject to scientific study to discern their determinate scientific laws.

Despite Marx’s claims, people continued to act as if free; those determinate laws never emerged, though, of course, some social scientists in our day still await them. But this is off Brown’s point; his interest is close to that of Eric Voegelin’s, when he describes Marxism as the prototype of ideology: an internally coherent, closed philosophical system whose first premises will not bear—or rather, one should say, will not suffer, investigation.  (more...)

I recall the joy I felt when I stood alone before truth, free of the contrivances of  fallen academe.

1 comment:

  1. I have problems with Brown's thesis. Something old may be wrong, may need to be supplanted etc. I think he is confusing physical sciences which always stand in need of correction and further exploration, with religious truth, which is unchangeable. Perhaps he stated this, but it is not clear from my reading.