The Rational and the Charismatic: Weber II

Last post I discussed Weber’s attempts to develop a taxonomy of communities and cultures in terms of the distinctions which each community draws between legitimate/righteous dominion and illegitimate/unrighteous dominion. The ways in which righteous dominion is set apart from unrighteous dominion are not at all limited to intellectual playthings or logical puzzles to be toyed with, since such standards strongly constrain the ways in which we understand and organize our social behavior.  Why should we obey what social services or medical professionals tell us? When is a command issued by a priesthood leader – or God Himself – to sacrifice all that I have or am an (il)legitimate command (one thinks of Abraham’s son)? By what standards do we tell others that they should or should not obey even their own commands within their own lives (a very modern idea that wasn’t at all obvious until rather recently)? (more…)

Righteous Dominion and Max Weber

June 1, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:32 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics

It is nearly impossible to overestimate Max Weber’s influence upon social theory.  He was a lawyer, an economist and a historian who largely invented the discipline of sociology, was fluent in 8 languages and authored enough works to fill 43 massive volumes.  Not bad for somebody who suffered a major emotional breakdown at the age of 33 and died at the relatively young age of 56. He was, by any reasonable standard, a walking encyclopedia and (for better or worse) his books read like one too. Indeed, it is the dry style with which he marshals an (often) excessive amount of historical material that is responsible for his lack of Marx and Nietzsche’s far more polemic popularity.  My goal in the next few posts will be to distill the historical material to be found in Weber’s writings while adding a bit of my own polemic punch.

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Authenticity, Morality and Truth: A Faithful Nietzsche III

May 18, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:25 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Truth

This will be the third and final post in my “Faithful Nietzsche” series. To recap, the first post appropriated Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch by attacking our own tendency to burden the living prophets with the weight of the dead by ignoring their limitations in stewardship. The second post appropriated Nietzsche’s hostility toward the universal equality around which modern morality is centered, suggesting (similar to Kierkegaard) that to be religious and to be moral are sometimes two very different things. In this third post, I will first unpack my own model of truth. After which, I will compare and contrast my model to that of Nietzsche. While there is quite a bit of overlap between the two models, there still remain several significant and irreconcilable differences.

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The Mediocrity of Modern Morality: A Faithful Nietzsche II

April 22, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:08 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Happiness,Life,orthodox,Politics,Truth

(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)

Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?

Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us. (more…)

Also Sprachen Die Propheten: A Faithful Nietzsche

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time… But I say unto you..”

“Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment… For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name.”

Passages like those above seriously call into question the idea that “eternal laws” are ahistorical, self-existent or totally independent of God’s creative will. Indeed, scriptural support for such a claim becomes nigh impossible once we acknowledge that

  1. the council of the gods might be the source of any allegedly external laws, or
  2. the Lord, as a flawless self-legislator, is subject to the laws that He gives Himself, or
  3. calling a law “endless” or “eternal” does not necessarily entail their timeless ahistoricity.

It is within such a perspective – that rejects any timeless, self-existent laws before which each and every god must bow – that revelation becomes a process of – to borrow Joseph Schumpeter’s term – creative destruction. Nietzsche’s term for the person who embodies creative destruction is the “overman” – a man who is able to overcome the moral commands of those around and before him/her. In this post I will defend the idea that the church is itself (or ought to be) a collective overman of sorts. (more…)

Bourdieu and the Bloggernacle: Autonomy and Apostasy

April 6, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:58 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Ethics,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox

“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”

“For, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get … praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”

This should be the final post in the series – at least for a while. Whereas the previous post was a Bourdieuian indictment of us who read, lurk and comment within the Bloggernacle, this post is more aimed at those of us who engage in the writing and publishing of posts within our little online community. To do this, I will provide a Bourdieuian account of the relationship and struggles between two fields of cultural production: the LDS church and the Bloggernacle. (All pages refer to Bourdieu’s The Field of Cultural Production, chapters of which can be found here and here.)

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Bourdieu and the Bloggernacle: Preliminaries

March 22, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:08 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices

Pierre Bourdieu’s book, Distinction: A Social Critique of Judgement and Taste, is one of those exciting page-turners that transforms the very way that you look at the world around you. Over the next few weeks I plan on posting a small series dealing with a Bourdieuian (I think that’s the most vowels that I’ve ever typed in a row) perspective on the Bloggernacle as a form of cultural production and consumption. In this preliminary post, I only want to give a small feel for Bourdieu and his understanding of language use. To this end, I will (very briefly) describe his relationships with Marx, Foucault and Gouldner. Unfortunately, I will not attempt to draw any direct religious implications within this post. (more…)

Hegel vs. Kierkegaard

March 18, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 2:46 pm   Category: Apologetics,Ethics,orthodox,Theology,Truth

While Hegel never actually framed his own ideas in terms of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis“, it is still a decent way of understanding the issue I would like to present.  In opposition to the “formalistic” reasoning of a mathematical and mechanistic worldview (a la Newton), he suggested a much more organic view wherein conflicting forms of thinking/consciousness are synthesized into a “higher” form of reasoning through history.  Art, philosophy and Christian religion each give us insight into the future culmination of this rational process.

Kierkegaard, in stark and explicit opposition to Hegel, claimed that such a synthesis of traditions amounts to a wishy-washy corruption of each in which we attempt, but fail to have it both ways.  Self-defining choices must be made. He thus contrasted the aesthetic, ethical/rational and religious lives (Kierkegaard’s view of the ethical/rational life is VERY close to the moral society which I have been discussing in recent posts), insisting that none of these consists of a synthesis of the other two.  He especially objected to any attempts at synthesizing religion and reason together – using Abraham as his go-to counter-example.

The question, then, is which of these models better expresses Mormon thought on the subject? On the one hand, we frequently find references in the scriptures to a choice which we all must make between trusting and following the religious ways of God and the secular arm of flesh.  On the other, we also find directions (which are strangely difficult to come by within the scriptures) to take the good from the rest of the world and build it into the gospel, thus creating one great whole (again, a phrase which does not seem to be all that scriptural). (more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 3

March 14, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:50 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics,Theology,Universalism

In the first part of this series, I discussed Koselleck’s claim that absolute monarchism had solved the civil/religious wars by placing “reasons of state” above all moral and religious reproach, both of these being relegated to the status of “private opinion”. The second post dealt with, what Koselleck calls, the “hypocrisy of the Enlightenment” wherein moral society came to exert influence and power through a suspicious combination of public claims to universality and neutrality, on the one hand, and particularistic, political influence through secret societies, on the other.  This third post will deal with the tensions which emerged during the Enlightenment between moral reason and sovereign decision-making (both political and religious) and the ways in which “[t]he divine, heretofore impervious, plan of salvation was … transformed into the morally just and rational planning of the future by the new elite.” (pg. 10)

Central to Koselleck’s account is that the (French) Enlightenment was not solely or even primarily a movement among intellectuals – hence his focus upon the crucial role played by secret societies.  Rather, it was a heterogeneous coalition among the anti-absolutist nobility, creditor bourgeoisie, pro-British emigres, philosophes and bureaucrats who were all united around little more than their shared objection to religious and political sovereignty.  These purely negative values around which these groups and interests were temporarily aligned had various forms of practical relevance:

  • They supported the illusion of political impotence and impartiality claimed by the Republic of Letters.
  • They greatly incentivized the criticism of all against all – this being the logic around which moral society became outwardly structured.
  • They strongly dis-incentivized transparency with respect to political decision-making within (secret) societies.
  • It made sub-groups within this coalition see one another as the new enemy to truth/freedom/etc. after the overthrow of absolutist monarchism.

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Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 2

March 7, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:09 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

The strange thing about the enlightenment was that the better policies and institutions worked, the more people took them for granted and criticized them for their imperfections.  (This tendency is still very much with us.) Koselleck thus argues, in Crisis and Critique, that the Enlightenment was an inevitably hypocritical process in which various societies – both secret and formal as well as public and informal – attacked absolute monarchism by willfully ignoring the concrete historical problems to which it was a solution.  Absolute monarchism had ended the civil and religious wars by placing a strong division between politics and morality/religion, and it was only within such a context of relative peace that Enlightenment criticisms were able to maintain an air of plausibility.

Thus, while Hobbes saw the authoritarian state as protecting our very lives within a civil war of all against all, 38 years later, Locke would argue that the state was a mechanism for protecting property and happiness within an otherwise peaceful environment populated by people who were both rational and tolerant.  Locke had thus fallen into the traditionally British snare of taking the peace and tolerance which he then observed in his own society as timeless, natural and thus in little need of vigilant safe-guarding when it had actually been the historical product of authoritarian state control.  The historical transition from a Hobbesian to a Lockean idea of the state thus lies at the heart of Koselleck’s argument, it being the antidote to such timeless and quintessentially British thinking. (more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 1

March 3, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 2:51 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

About a year and a half ago I wrote a small series of posts in which I discussed Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere as a basic outline for different ways in which we can understand the various manifestations of the gospel. Within this post I would like to discuss another book which approach almost the same topic and material from a very different political angle: Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society. The difference between the two is the whereas Habermas traces his roots back through the Frankfurt School to Kant and Rousseau, Koselleck intellectual heritage traces back through Carl Schmitt to Hobbes. Thus, whereas the former thinks that the “public sphere” is the best thing that can happen within and lead a society, the latter is much more suspicious and cynical about the idea that inter-subjective criticism can deliver on its rather utopian promises. (more…)

Repression, Confession and Human Sexuality

February 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:54 pm   Category: Ethics,Modesty,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Truth

The deep disagreements between the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and Foucault can be summarized in the question: Freud or Nietzsche? The German Critical Theorists thought that the scientific analytics of both Marx and Freud could liberate us from the dual domination of ideology and repression. Being the Nietzschean that he was, Foucault’s response to all such hopes was a pointed “tu quoque”: the Marxist and Freudian disciplines merely replace one form of domination with another of their own making. Thus, while Habermas frames his own social theory in terms of a collective (Kohlbergian) moral development over which we gradually acquire greater control through discursive enlightenment, Foucault sees social history in terms of an unguided, almost Darwinian reconfiguration of (rather than liberation from) power relations. It is for this reason that Habermas dismisses all such Nietzscheans as “young conservatives”.

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Honor, Dignity and Victimhood

January 20, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:19 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Truth,Universalism

This post that consists of three parts:  First, I will give a brief review of Jonathan Haidt and his publications – this section is optional and can be skipped if you like.  Second, I will summarize “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” an article by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning concerning the nature of microaggressions and the emergence of “victimhood” culture – this is the main meat of the post.  Finally, I will use Nietzsche’s master/slave moralities to apply Campbell and Manning’s paper to the differences between victimhood culture and the gospel.

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A Social History of “Just Asking Questions”

December 14, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 5:14 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology,Truth

“The man whom we believe is necessarily, in the things concerning which we believe him, our leader and director.”

– Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments

This post is a summary of the first chapter in Steven Shapin’s A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England.  While Shapin’s book is largely about the sociological origins of scientific truth, his account easily generalizes to a discussion of truth, trust and dissent within religious communities.

Shapin is a leading figure in the “strong programme” of the sociology of knowledge associated, primarily, with the University of Edinburgh.  This school largely defines itself in terms of its claim that the truth-value of a claim does not causally explain it.  Thus, claims that are true must be causally explained in a way that is “symmetrical” to false claims… which is exactly what makes many people on the other side of the science wars more than a little nervous.  Thus, Shapin says:

“There is a massive mismatch between dominant characterizations of the sources of our factual knowledge and the ways in which we actually secure that knowledge.  Both seventeenth-century and present-day ‘moderns’ widely advertise direct experience as the surest grounds for factual knowledge, just as they identify reliance upon the testimony of others as an insecure warrant for such knowledge.  Similarly, both sets of ‘moderns’ celebrate proper science as a culture which had indeed rectified knowledge by rejecting what others tell us and seeking direct individual experience.   In contrast, I argue that no practice has accomplished the rejection of testimony and authority and that no cultural practice recognizable as such could do so.” (xxv) (more…)

Scientists and Seers: Infalliblity and Autonomy

November 18, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 11:42 am   Category: Ethics,orthodox,Truth

The infallibility (or lack thereof) that can be attributed to priesthood leaders is not different from that which can be attributed to scientists or any other community that pretends to cultural authority.  (This would include political parties, activist groups, nations, ethnic minorities, social identities, etc.)  In both cases, the party in question fully acknowledges that they are imperfect and completely open to critical review.  Neither party claims absolute and unyielding certainty.

While each community is open to critical review of its imperfect claims, they also insist, however, that such critical review must come from WITHIN their own community – through processes that they recognize as legitimate.  This inevitably places the community beyond the scope of “outside” criticism.  Indeed, within our modern, liberal society such communities will tend to moralize any such external criticism as an illegitimate or oppressive interference with their autonomy or academic/religious freedom within their “rightful” stewardship or domain.  (Non-modern moralize such interference in different moral terms – moral pollution, etc.)  Each community is thus fully open to correction, but only through the rules, means, techniques, values, persons and truths that define, structure and differentiate it from other communities.   (more…)

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