Monday, July 23, 2007

Ron Paul, small government non-interventionist

Ron Paul is the non-interventionist (in terms of governmental foreign-policy and the policy of the federal government regarding the citizenry), America-first candidate. He's shown he's not afraid to make his stances known, either:
He was the sole House member of either party to vote against the Financial Antiterrorism Act (final tally: 412-1). In 1999, he was the only naysayer in a 424-1 vote in favor of casting a medal to honor Rosa Parks. Nothing against Rosa Parks: Paul voted against similar medals for Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. He routinely opposes resolutions that presume to advise foreign governments how to run their affairs: He has refused to condemn Robert Mugabe’s violence against Zimbabwean citizens (421-1), to call on Vietnam to release political prisoners (425-1) or to ask the League of Arab States to help stop the killing in Darfur (425-1).
Wow. I remember staring at a poster in high school during class that exhorted the viewer to "Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone." Instead of a pastel silhouette of an androgynous human engulfed in rainbow swirls, Paul's face should've been the graphical feature.

Despite the libertarian moniker, he's a solid supporter of US sovereignty (ABI gives him a 'B+' for his recent votes on immigration legislation). The Congressman excoriated the Senate for the recent amnesty it tried three times to surreptitiously slip past a public that overwhelmingly opposed it.

He's an interesting character, an anomaly of the contemporary political world. The in-depth NYT Magazine article excerpted above makes for an edifying read.


MensaRefugee said...

His stated Hero and Mentor is Ludwig Von Mises, who was also the mentor of Friedrich Hayek and to a lesser extent Milton Friedman.

Austrian Economists FTW!

Anonymous said...

Epigone? I can see that, I suppose.

But I don't see what is so audacious about you. The notion that favoring empiricism over ideology is somehow audacious is impossible to take seriously for two reasons:

1. Placing the two concepts in this oppositional relation at best fails to confront and at worst misconstrues the differences inherent in what they describe. Empiricism is an operational term, referring to a mode of analysis, and cannot in and of itself provide the basis for rendering judgments of value. An ideology, by contrast, is a mode of discourse concerned exclusively with providing the basis for judgments of value. The contrast I offer here is not a politically charged one: you don't have to agree with an ideology in order to identify it as such. But what you should understand is that a project of, say, making political or ethical decisions by bringing a particular calculus to bear--however straightforward or "commonsensical"--is an ideological project, whether one thinks about it this way or not.

2. The very fact that you don't confront the ideological character of a "favoring" empiricism, that the notion is simply supposed to stand for itself in opposition to "ideology" demonstrates that your position could not possibly be audacious. This is because it is presented in your blog heading as though this way of opposing two disparate concepts is a matter of commonsense. For determining beyond a doubt that a point of view is not audacious, there is no yardstick more reliable than counting as "commonsense." Would it be audacious of me, for instance, to say that publicly traded companies should be legal? Not unless I was saying it in 1600. And yet, despite the fact that it seems like stating the obvious, it is as ideological a statement as one could make.

In sum: the title and description of your blog is not a clever paradox, nor is it an ironic or even successfully self-deprecating statement of intent. Rather, it points to the structural inconsistency and rhetorical naivete of your positions.

The substance of your arguments in this blog further evince this problem: nowhere do I find value-neutral analyses of empirical data. Rather, I find polemics about the free market that lack methodogical rigor and rhetorical coherence.

You may be a "nominal" Lutheran (which doesn't mean "normal," by the way, it means "in name," which means that it doesn't make sense to say it about yourself, when you could simply say "ambivalent" or "moderate" instead: it's up to Jonathan Swift to *call you* a nominal Lutheran), but you are 100% raving, card-carrying, believer in the gospel of wealth. An ideologue.

There should be a rule that before anyone creates a blog with a title like "The Audacious Epigone" and an overblown self-description about ideology and empiricism, that they should first read, and at least partly understand:

Smith (but actually read it...)
De Tocqueville
Adorno / Horkheimer
J.S. Mill

Equip yourself to make arguments that can be taken seriously! If you don't know where your opponents stand, and if you don't know the intellectual history upon which your and their premises are based, then you're just resigning yourself to cheer-leading for a cause that you don't understand.

"I hate political correctness" isn't enough anymore. You're not in high school anymore. (And, not everybody who espouses an attitude toward the market that is more ambivalent than yours is some commie longhair cheerleader. Don't judge a political worldview by its most ludicrous exponents (like high school English teachers): judge it by its ARGUMENTS. Otherwise, you'll find yourself stuck in this perpetual shouting match.

We've got real problems in this world, and we need young, bright people like you to start moving past cable news soundbitism, and really take responsibility for what you're saying.

I actually mean all of this in the friendliest way.

Audacious Epigone said...


I suppose the audacity refers to what you find in the 'data' column to the right of the page.

When it comes to favoring empiricism over ideology, that is obviously a contemporary descriptor. My intent is communication, not necessarily absolutely correct use of the Queen's English. What it says to readers is, I like empirically-derived evidence more than pure rationality. Perhaps that's how I should contrast it. But it's merely an introduction.

It is apparent that you've not read more than a few paragraphs of this blog, else you couldn't possibly describe me as a "100% raving, card-carrying, believer in the gospel of wealth."

Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog sees that as an obvious indication that you've not done any reading of your "opponent". That is, you don't understand his arguments at all because you so clearly mischaracterize them. My 'raison d'etre' is immigration restriction coupled with a merited system. I spend a lot of text trying to repudiate WSJ op/eds on the subject.

No, "moderate" Lutheran would not be the right adjective to use at all. Nominal is.

MensaRefugee said...

Anon needs to read "A conflict of Visions" and a few more recent authors, and also stop assuming that there is something to read in all the old authors.

Marx, Hegel, to a certain extent Durkhiem and freud should only be read almost exclusively to refute them, or at least to not remake their mistakes, if one were to be euphemistic.

I say this in the friendliest way...

Audacious Epigone said...


I think he hopped in from a search engine, saw that I did a blerp on Ron Paul, and assumed he knew all he needed to about the blog. To insinuate that I must be as familiar as he with Austrian economics to support Paul is his aim, I think. But I'd wager I know a lot more about the tax structure, the IRC, and how this effects the US economy than he does.

Yes, like reading Seneca or Plato, the value is in garnering the gyst, not trying to make historical sense of the intricacies that often don't apply to the contemporary world.

Weber, in the role of a historian, doesn't really belong in the group listed. I would, in concurring with your comment, suggest that an a general knowledge of Rousseau, even Mill, Goethe (who can be seen spurring along other like Nietzche), and Polanyi (who can be grouped in with those expounding Austrian economics). Comte is useful in making anon's argument that 'empiricism' is, in itself, an ideology, as all human epistomological methods must be at any level of coherence. But I don't see reading him as crucial--perhaps anon will elucidate on why I am wrong. Machiavelli is fun to read. But The Prince doesn't strike the modern reader as novel at all--it's politics as usual, by today's standards.

Anonymous said...

I’ll concede some of the blogger’s initial points: namely that I hadn’t examined your blog very carefully. And my strident tone had as much to do with the mood I was in as anything. The fact is, that I rarely look at blogs and have never before written comments on one. I think I’ll go back to never doing it again after this, but I did want to defend my broader claim, one that I fully admit that I did a poor job stating, namely that this blog—and political discourse in general among younger generations—should become less euphemistic, less knee-jerk, more measured in its tone, transparent in its principles and more aware of the history of ideas and discourse on whose shoulders it stands. I hope to demonstrate this, to the extent possible, through a discussion of some of the responses of the blogger and the other commentator.

“Anon needs to read ‘A conflict of Visions’ and a few more recent authors, and also stop assuming that there is something to read in all the old authors.”

While it is true that I haven’t spent tons of time with the Sowell book, I do recall that its core proposition, tracing the opposition of “constrained” v. “unconstrained” worldviews in modern Western thought is interesting and potentially useful. But none of us here would argue that it manages to—or intends to—stand as a comprehensive treatment of the positions of all of the thinkers therein. It advances an argument. In constructing this opposition, and delegating various historical ideologies to one side or the other, Sowell’s book makes a plea for a certain way of conceptualizing the basis upon which future action might be taken.

In other words—and again, I’m not offering this point as controversial, but rather, as background to my response—it is best understood in relation to a cognizance not only of the contingencies at play in our current condition in the United States, but also in relation to a cognizance of historical thinkers, each of who wrote and acted in relation to the contingencies of his own—political, economic, cultural, etc.—age. He’s not arguing that we shouldn’t read those guys, rather, he’s assuming that we know about them, and is advancing a thesis as to how we might integrate them—or undertake specifically not to integrate them—into our way of thinking about our present and future. Thus, this line of thinking—

‘Marx, Hegel, to a certain extent Durkhiem and freud should only be read almost exclusively to refute them, or at least to not remake their mistakes, if one were to be euphemistic.’

—is not to my mind a position that is of necessity indefensible, but it’s one with which I personally do not agree, for four reasons. The first three refer to the type of claim you’re making generally, and the third responds on a substantive basis to your claim as regards these specific thinkers:

1) I don’t understand why reading any author whose work is of significant interest or influence to lots of people, somewhere at some time—from The Republic to the Bible to the Communist Manifesto, to Native Son to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, etc. etc.—could be thought of as something to be read “only to refute them.” Equally, I would say that it wouldn’t make sense to think of a text as to be read only to uphold it. This is because a degree of presuppositionlessness is to my mind a necessary component of any serious reading: even if you’re sufficiently aware of the author’s point of view at the outset, if you are not engaging in a kind of dialogue with the text, even a willing suspension of disbelief, the you’re not going be bringing to it sufficient intellectual rigor to become genuinely acquainted with the arguments posed. This is how, in its most absurd manifestations that dominate the strident political discourse of our day, topics that should form the basis for serious debates regress into sloganeering.

2) The second troubling effect of reading historical intellectual figures with one’s presuppositions intact, or worse, not acquainting oneself with them at all, is that it removes any capacity of the reader for self-reflection upon his own worldview, and removes the element possibility of reconfiguring the tenets and insights that one brings to bear in analyzing a constellation of complex historical issues. For example: prevents him from re-conceptualizing his sense of which social/economic/etc. structures at play in a present situation are the consequential ones. Or: what historical trends offer the most convincing and/or clear insights into the present conditions. Or: which metaphors were used in the public discourse surrounding that situation, and how might a corresponding set of metaphors be brought to bear in order to best understand this one, or argue for a particular point of view of this situation?

3) The third effect of dismissive or non-presuppositionless reading —and this one is even more sinister—gets to the heart of what compelled me write my initial post: it closes off the serious possibility that the reader will recalibrate his value structure in relation to insights gleaned in encountering the text. Thus, holding firm to his overarching point of view, the empirical data, and even the insights, analyses, and arguments that the text derives from them, including the very conclusions reached by the author of the text, become little more than *operations.* Which is to say that the reader is engaged in an exercise of operational rationality, while either doing nothing to attend to or reflect upon the question of the rationality of his own position or WORSE—and plenty of people are mired in this condition—*reveling* in the willful irrationality of maintaining his position, or what he constructs according to some criteria or another to be his consistent position, despite the fact that the position must always as a matter of course continually create itself in relation to new information, the march of time, etc. In other words, while the reader thinks he is keeping “other points of view” at bay in order to hold on to his individual position, he is in fact doing violence to the very possibility of his own autonomy, his own self-realization. And this poisons the well of discourse most of all. Think about that the next time you watch the pundits, for whom I’m sure you’ve got every bit as much contempt as I do. But that’s why I am arguing as strenuously as I can that bright, interested, politically engaged young people need to take serious stock of the nature of their discourse and language, get off the treadmill, and start demanding more seriousness from the sphere of ideas.

4) Now, a quick response to the claim on substantive grounds: even if it *were* somehow true that some thinkers should be read “exclusively to be refuted,” Marx, Hegel, Durkheim, and Freud would not be the ones. This is because these figures, especially Hegel and Marx, were so consequential to the intellectual history of *what it means to refute something* that you could never possibly disentangle your own refutation from this legacy. Beyond this: what do you mean, “refute”? In accordance with I describe above, refutation is an operational gesture. It implies nothing about the position from which something is refuted, the methodologies at play, and the premises upon which the refutation is occurring. For example, from the standpoint of empirical historical analysis, we could argue pretty safely that Marx was incorrect to propose the inevitability of the proletarian revolution; we’d probably find few sane people who genuinely disagree with our argument. But even in doing so, we need to bring to bear criteria for analyzing which of Marx’s statements in what way—do we insist upon an interpretation that takes his most brash predictions, with all of their dates and assumptions, at their word? Do we allow him leeway for not having understood the underlying conservative character of the proletariat in, say, Germany, or for having an insufficiently nuanced notion of what “proletariat” or “”capitalism” mean, or for not anticipating fascism? Or, does his shortsightedness on these counts impeach his very notion out of hand? And if we are right that he was full of shit in predicting the rise of the proletariat, how do we respond to the Leftists when they say “Communism’s never been tried in practice?” Does this mean that we have to agree with them, and simply call Soviet Russia and Mao China totalitarian, technocratic regimes? And if so, doesn’t this mean we have to revise our previous argument about how Communism should in fact be taken to task for its worldly manifestations, rather than get off scott free by masquerading as mere abstraction that hasn’t yet met with the proper conditions to burble to the surface? In other words, it’s a lot harder work to read deeply—and to reflect upon the relation of previous historical situations to present ones—than it is to blithely dismiss entire literatures. What’s more, to avoid doing so endows one with the satisfaction of indulging in the illusion of absolute principles (something that very few great thinkers have actually been able to possess—and in fact very fact the very greatest thinkers often actually continually rethought and revised their ideas [see: Weber]). But ultimately, the effect will be that your ideas will be superficial, moreover, to the extent that the ideas can even be said to be yours, they will be serving somebody else’s ends.

This brings me to the question about Weber:

'Weber, in the role of a historian, doesn't really belong in the group listed.'

Weber is relevant to this discussion in more ways than one, and among the figures I listed, has by FAR the most to say about the constellation of economic, social, political, philosophical and epistemological issues that characterize our current moment, and his degree of relevance only increases when we boil down to the issues with which this blog concerns itself. The most direct connection is that he lived and wrote during a time of every kind of upheaval you could imagine in Germany—from Weimar through WWI, and through many of the years of the tempestuous climate that would ultimately foment the ascendance of National Socialism. (He died in 1920.)

Far from merely a “historian,” Weber was in fact a legal scholar, economist, political scientist and sociologist—actually one of the de facto founders of sociology. But this was, of course, before the academic distinctions among many of these disciplines existed. His work additionally encompassed and integrated epistemology, ethics, history, cultural criticism, comparative anthropology, the sociological studies of: religion, immigration, bureaucracy, the press, social and professional sects, and Weber was one of most important innovators in of methodology of the social sciences.

His immense intellectual and topical scope suited him well to evaluate the tumult of his time and place. And anybody who is taking a serious look at our national situation, as regards questions of immigration, economic decline, class antagonism, agriculture, cultural ennui and pervading epigonism (a term that was used then, as now, to describe the plight of that era in Europe), really should take a look at Weber to increase the depth and scope of their understanding. Although his ideas were always in flux, one thing that to his enormous corpus reliably features are methods of probing, comprehending, and evaluating the interconnectivity-yet-autonomousness of various competing spheres of social experience. He argued that in modern society, human action in each of these spheres is occurs through adherence—either unconscious or conscious—to various ‘ethics,’ in the sense of the ‘protestant ethic’ of his famous essay, and he described this adherence in terms of human subjugation to various competing ‘gods,’ sometimes described as Weber’s ‘value polytheism.’ (For more on this, check out Weber’s essay, “Religious Rejections of the World and their Directions.”)

Though this is only the tip of the iceberg, I can’t imagine a more compelling methodological or evaluative structure for analyzing the issues with which this blog is concerned. I don’t agree with your politics, and having looked a bit more closely at your blog, I have to say that I’m uneasy about some of your ideas about race, IQ, etc. (in addition to myriad other ethical and empirical problems attendant to them, I simply don’t think you realize how frighteningly recent such movements as eugenics and compulsory sterilization are…you seem like far too decent a person to not be scared shitless by that stuff…), but you seem to be a basically bright person who is motivated to do what he is doing for reasons that are basically honest and decent in their intentions.

So, I’m only trying to urge you increase the breadth and depth of your intellectual orientation, and take a break now and then from the treadmill of cable news cycles. It will do tons of good for the country’s political situation, and anyway, it is the only cure for epigonism I know. Plus, although he probably ultimately fails at following it himself, his ideas about value-neutral social scientific methodology should be required reading for all college students. I’ll leave you with a couple of late-period Weber essays, the first of which explicates aspects of this proposed value-neutral methodology:

Science as a vocation

Politics as a vocation

Audacious Epigone said...


Why would you not comment on another? Your erudition and thoughtful, measured responses are something many people will benefit from. I certainly have.

The blogosphere, as a communication medium, is best suited for up-to-the-minute quick blerps on current events. It's interactive nature, the almost non-existent 'publishing' costs, and the ability to upload to and view anywhere and at anytime, makes it superior to TV news, print sources, or scholarship in this regard.

I wrote on the local Semler affair. Peter Brimelow picked it up. Jack Cashill contacted me on it and has since written an article that includes much of what was included in my initial post. Presumably from him, the WSJ carried it nationally. In my opinion, this makes my blogging activities worthwhile.

Jumping in briefly to the four points you raise in taking issue with Mensa, regarding your third, certainly the position that various sources are to be used merely as ways of justifying a position rather than arriving at one is endemic in a partisan age. Take Charles Darwin, for example. How many of those goofs driving around with footed Darwin fish have actually read the Origin of Species, or even know the work's full title? Descent of Man? Yet applying selection theory to contemporary humans is anathema to so much of the academic and political class.

The cable news punditry circuit isn't reformable, I fear. Impuslivity characterizes the less intelligent. CNN and Fox News have become incrasingly tabloid in the material they cover. Their policy "experts" consist primarily of cheap partisan political hacks. I'd rather just go elsewhere.

Regarding Weber: I've read him more than any other thinker you included in your list. As a historian, he is a worthwhile secondary source (he is, in many ways, a primary source as well). His work on China is relevant even in understanding where the PRC is headed today. How he spent his personal leisure time--hosting 'Socratic' seminars to discuss, less formally, the materials and ideas that comprised his scholarly life--illustrates the fallacy of knee-jerk, partisan responses well. The PWE is invaluable both in its sociological composition and in attempting to explain American exceptionalism, among other things.

As for controversial subject matter, specifically IQ: I'm in my early twenties. I'm quicker to dismiss the blunders of past generations than I probably should be, but at the same time I feel little guilt for the sins of forefathers. I do not view myself as being implicated in their 'crimes' simply by attempting to deal more accurately with the material they used incompletely or nefariously.

IQ, at the individual, state, and national levels appears to have enormous explanatory power--I've discovered correlations with several sociological attributes in which estimated IQ appears to be the strongest indicator of. Better to lay it out on the table than place omertas on it--the latter strategy allows pseudo-science an avenue it wouldn't enjoy were we more certain of these monumental differences.

Regarding the self-edification: I'm trying. It's not what I attempt to digest on this blog, because I'm a novice. But I've read the PWE, I've read Machiavelli, Mill, Hegel, Tocqueville, and Freud. I'm familiar with most of the others. Currently, I'm reading a Fletcher Who's Who. Just finished Toby Huff's comparative work on early Occidental, Islamic, and Chinese science (hard to get away from Weber there!). But I probably have decades before I'll be able to be other than the student--silently trying to soak it all in, occasionally making superficial references, but for the most part just trying to make sense of it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to leave this as "anonymous" just can't be bothered to join any other identity modality -- FWIW my real name is Joe Wheeler. I stumbled onto your blog while doing some searching on Weber. However, what I was drawn to was your comment
How many of those goofs driving around with footed Darwin fish have actually read the Origin of Species, or even know the work's full title? Descent of Man?. Sorry, I have a fish symbol with feet on my bumper and have in fact read Darwin's major works, and therefore must point out that the Origin of Species' full title is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life -- published in 1859 -- it does not except for one line in the entire book, mention "Man". It was 13 years after that Darwin published The Decent of Man, in 1872. One would gather from your statement that you think they are one and the same book, and it is highly improbable that anyone who had read both would become confused and think of them as one and the same. They are memorably distinct.

Anonymous said...

darwin commentator-- kind of nit-picky, don't you think?.....