On immature philosophers

15 06 2010

St. Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both.

This is how Corey Robin begins his reflection on Ayn Rand and her influence on the modern ideological landscape. I only read one book by Ayn Rand, Anthem, predictably as an impressionable teenager. Back then, I liked Sartre and Camus a lot: but I was young, not stupid. I found her dystopian novel to be melodramtic and over-written. It is astounding, but perhaps not too shocking, that so many dilettantes in the U.S. find her profound. The essay analyzes this phenomenon well. It wasn’t that Rand influenced Hollywood bringing it a philosophy that it could sink its teeth into. Her philosophy was a “Hollywood production”: the perfect melodrama of American narcissism staring back at its own reflection.

I get the same feeling reading Nietzsche. As I have said before, the only people who can read Nietzsche with a straight face are anti-social loners in late adolescence, and those who would indulge the egos of these people. I suppose one way to gauge the value of a philosopher is if you would invite him or her to a party. I think Nietzsche and Rand are not getting invited to mine. Hadot was pretty down to earth, Ficino could play the lyre, and Plato probably could hold his liquor pretty well (if the Symposium is indeed indicative of real life). Iamblichus is a question mark. Proclus could do some neat party tricks. Pico della Mirandola was a wet blanket, but he would get invited anyway just because of his 900 Theses: there’s some crazy shit in there. I would seriously have to look into the lives of Mircea Eliade, Ioan Couliano, Robert Fludd, and others.


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16 responses

19 06 2010
Rob

I would invite Joe Walsh to my party.

18 06 2010
Lucian

I would seriously have to look into the lives of Mircea Eliade, Ioan Couliano, Robert Fludd, and others.

Thank you from the bottom of my phyletistic soul for naming two great Romanian intellectuals in the same sentence. 🙂

17 06 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Even my “philosophical heroes” have flaws. Nietzsche I will admit has a good schtick in some places, and a number of good zingers. But I still don’t feel I can make apologias for his whole intellecual project, or for his personality for that matter. I have always felt that it was perhaps the Renaissance popes who were the best Nietzscheans avant la lettre. Just like the best paganism is Roman Catholicism: a sort of polytheism inoculated (perhaps not too well) against the more ridiculous aspects of ancient religion.

And I read Camus, but I found him insufferable.

16 06 2010
Anonymous

Eliade was into speed for awhile, and he definitely experimented with various psychedelics. Would you invite Foucault to your party?

16 06 2010
KarlH

I’ll look into that. Thanks!

16 06 2010
KarlH

Oh, it’s worth saying that Seraphim Rose did suffer quite a bit from convert-sickness. This is unfortunately apparent in that quote; I don’t endorse it fully.

16 06 2010
KarlH

“Atheism, true ‘existential’ atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly seeks. It is Christ Who works in these souls. The Antichrist is not to be found primarily in the great deniers, but in the small affirmers, whose Christ is only on the lips. Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ.” – Bl. Seraphim Rose

I should add that sometimes I’m purposely misleading in how much I know about certain things. Someone on your blog had previously called Nietzsche a weak man. I don’t think this is a fair assessment. I think he was a very good man who was trying to escape the dual nihilism of feel-good Christian fundamentalism and the blind and stupid atheism that is at the heart of every age.

16 06 2010
James Chastek

Read Nietzsche’s “Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense” (1873). All of what I spoke of is there, at least in embryo. Pierre Boudot (another French exegete of N.) says that all of N’s thought is contained in that brief essay. I think the line of thought in the essay is best clarified and developed in Veyne’s “Did the Greeks Believe their Myths”, where the things I listed off are clear as day, but also clearly developments of N.

16 06 2010
KarlH

@James Chastek

I’m not very well-versed in Nietzsche, but are those his original creations? I must admit that I’m more familiar with the post-Nietzscheans. It seems that their philosophy developed out of his angst. Rather, he was good at showing certain frustrations and problems of cultural, philosophical, and religious institutions, and the philosophers influenced by him took these frustrations to create something. In short, the tree of frustration carries a lot of seeds.

16 06 2010
Visibilium

I like both Rand and Nietzche, along with Spengler, Ortega y Gasset, and Tom Paine. Paine would probably be the only hearty partier.

As for Robin’s piece, vacuous tidbits “Like Hitler, Rand finds in nature, in man’s struggle for survival, a ‘logical foundation’ for capitalism” defy analysis.

15 06 2010
James Chastek

I can see what you don’t like in Nietzsche, but it was also a little surprising to read since you do seem to like philosophers who follow Nietzsche pretty closely (Foucault for one, but I figured you’d like Paul Veyne too.) I wonder if it’s more the English-speaking interpretations of Nietzsche that you hate (and this I would really understand) since there is much in your thinking that suggests French Nietzschianism. A short list: historical accounts of broadly philosophical topics that stress the centrality of culture; a resistance to imposing abstract rational structures on historical or cultural processes; a sympathy, tending towards pluralism, for the diverse sorts of expression without trying to categorize them into high and low (your critique of the Neo-Caths always strikes me as more a desire to take them down a peg, not so much to place them in a high/low hierarchy).

15 06 2010
popery

Did your copy of Anthem have the little “Join the Ayn Rand Club” postcard in it?

15 06 2010
Mike

I’m pretty sure Hadot, Sartre and Camus could all read Nietzsche with a straight face. On the other hand, I don’t know any philosopher of note who takes Rand seriously.

15 06 2010
Sean

I would invite you to my party…

15 06 2010
Manuel

I recently read Atlas Shrugged. I can see why so many fall into the trap. If I had read when young I would have too. Ironically, it has made me more interested in philosophy, especially Aristotle, the Master of those who know.

15 06 2010
Anonymous

Recently discovered your blog through the Western Confucian. I am loving it!

What prompted this first comment is the way you trail off on this post. It immediately made me think of Monty Python’s “Philosopher’s Drinking Song”.

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