Welcome to Hesiod’s Corner! We are living in interesting and exciting times, but that seems to always be a truism. If you stumbled upon Hesiod’s Corner by looking for Hesiod—the famous 8th century B.C.E. Greek poet, then you might already have a good inkling at what is going to be contained here. If not, I hope you find this little slice of the internet informative and engaging—and perhaps you’ll grow in an appreciation for intellectual endeavors and activity, especially philosophy.
What will the content at Hesiod’s Corner be covering? Philosophy, mostly, also theology and broader subjects in the humanities and—from time to time—sociology, economics, and other subjects of the social sciences. But it all branches out. As all good philosophy students know, philosophy is cornerstone of both the social sciences and humanities and even the modern sciences (natural philosophy). From pure philosophy, we will also be looking all things related: philosophy of history (historiography), political philosophy, history of philosophical thought, theology and religion, the history of ideas, history, anthropology, and the canonical “great texts” of philosophy and literature. In other words, we shall explore Athens, Jerusalem, and everything in between!
From within the pages here, you will find the “deep thought” that is excluded from textbooks and horrendous misappropriation and misleading statements especially on internet encyclopedias. Contained in these pages will be the subject matter of discussion of philosophy, theology, and political theory at graduate levels, not the bully pulpit of the Washington Post, New York Times, Washington Times, Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC which continue to peddle the plebeianization of public consciousness.
THE VALUE OF THE LIBERAL ARTS
Education is the most precious of gifts, and the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Here, you will hopefully receive an open education that puts your mind into full motion. Wrestling with ideas, concepts, and critically engaging texts and ideas is the heart of liberal education. With a background in both the social sciences and humanities, and trained in the true liberal arts tradition, I’m hoping that we can grow in appreciation for what it means to “be a human” (i.e., critically aware, self-reflecting, and a thinker). Most publications and cable news outlets that purport to stimulate discussion actually stifle it. Here, we will often look at what newspapers and cable news will not dare touch—only the stuff that those of us wasting our lives in higher education dare to wrestle with and debate.
The liberal arts tradition, in particular, values a true diversity in education. To be familiar with as many disciplines as possible, and to equally be familiar with all the variant schools of thought, logic, epistemology, etc., that influence how people view and think about the world, events (past and present, even future), and public policy. Here at Hesiod’s Corner, I hope to stimulate and foster that diversity of critical thinking, knowledge, and self-reflection. The purpose of the liberal arts tradition is in line with the original conception of higher education—not a place to receive a marketable degree to enter the workforce and get a good paying job, but a place to become a critical thinker, an educated human being, and someone able to reflect upon logic and other schools of thought. (This is not to say the intention is to persuade one to a particular school, but to be able to understand the fundamentals of where other people are “coming from” with regards to any issue at hand.)
What is philosophy? There are many definitions. The most common being “the pursuit of wisdom” or “love of wisdom.” While, perhaps, sufficient, it is equally vague. I’ve always preferred the Continental outlook: philosophy is the attempt to understand the natural world and our (human) condition within the natural world. (Though philosophy is not at all limited to just this.) It is precisely this definition, I think, that helps illuminate why philosophy gave birth to just about every subject people now study in universities today (even all the postmodern studies were rooted in the philosophical ideas of Frankfurt School and such thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jean Francois Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida, among many others). Philosophy doesn’t shy away from “the big questions.” And these “big questions” don’t just apply to us as individuals, they apply to society: politics, law, economics, and all the interstices and complexities that go along with that.
Primarily, we’ll explore philosophical ideas and their histories as it relates to us and the impact and legacy such ideas have had. The history of Western philosophy in other words. Likewise, we’ll explore “political ideology” in its structural and foundational form: political philosophy. What are the real roots of political ideology, and what do the philosophical ideas and concepts that ground political ideology mean to us in the present? Where does History and theology merge, and where do they separate? As the eminent historian and philosopher Karl Löwith noted back in 1949, History (or Historicism) is a derivative of theology—“secularized theology.” All of the talk of “history teaching us something,” “being on the right side of history,” “being on the losing side of history,” all engender this notion of “Historical Progress.” Where does this idea come from? Where does it have antecedent roots? Does “secularization mean, then, the preservation of thoughts, feelings, or habits of biblical origin after the loss atrophy of biblical faith” as Leo Strauss described it? (And as many other philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists equally conclude, from the likes of Marcel Gauchet, Jürgen Habermas, and Robert Nisbet as well.) At Hesiod’s Corner, we’re not going to shy away from delving into the big questions of true intellectual scholarship than concern ourselves with petty pedantic hermeneutics and “critical theory.”
The essence of philosophy is rooted in the great books tradition. It values reading, proper hermeneutics, and understanding what writers meant and how their ideas have shaped the present. Truthfully, we all have philosophies. Most have simply been inherited by the culture we grow up in, but many people are unconscious of their own philosophy. Here, perhaps you might be illuminated to find where you truly fall in philosophy. Furthermore, critical thought of many perspectives is the ultimate result of the study of philosophy. Why philosophy? Because in philosophy, you’re exposed to many traditions of thought: materialism and immaterialism, realism and idealism, liberalism, conservatism, reactionaryism, and Marxism, ancient and modern, the theological and secular. This exposure to the many traditions of thought allows one to “understand,” so to speak, where other people are coming from. It teaches one how to identify, understand, and critically engage other arguments, points of view, and logic. Furthermore, you just might realize how interconnected the world of philosophy is. Philosophy is about the dialectic, after all, all philosophers engage with one another; even in 2017 philosophers engage with the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sts. Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Spinoza, Vico, Hegel, and Marx.
But there’s more to the story than just philosophy. What is the philosophy of history? What is the mythopoetic – to which the very name of this site pays homage to? Why are Homer, Hesiod, and Virgil just as important to us in philosophy, philosophy of history, and the rigorous humanities as Plato, Aquinas, Hobbes, and Sartre?
In 1963, the great American historian Richard Hofstadter published his forgotten masterpiece Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. In it he outlined how social movements, principally dissenting Evangelical Protestantism, social egalitarianism (I suppose we would call them the “New Left” today – and by “Left” I’m not referring to liberalism, the philosophy that even so-called American “Conservatives” are a variant species of), capitalism and the promise of the “American Dream” (wholly materialistic), and progressive education reform are all united with a suspicion toward, or outright disregard for, intellectualism. Why? As Hofstadter said, there tends to be paranoia among religious fundamentalists (wrongly so from their end, I might add) that too much education is a threat to faith (and yet, it was people of faith who founded our majestic universities in both Europe and North America – and it was the Puritans who most thoroughly valued education and its importance).
Political egalitarians held intellectuals as “elitist” and “un-democratic,” that intellectualism itself was a product of hierarchy, patriarchy, and inegalitarianism—ergo intellectualism had to die in order for political egalitarianism to achieve its social aims because why should one concern himself, or herself, with the antiquated thoughts of mostly dead men from Europe? Business capitalism also fosters anti-inellectualism. The American Dream is not intellectual, but material. Every minute spent reading Homer, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Abelard, Nietzsche, and Camus is a minute wasted in making yourself “a self-made man.” And finally, the progressive education reforms that aimed at making education “more progressive and practical” were specifically political in scope. Accordingly, Hofstadter saw the progressive reformers (in education) as fundamentally altering the purpose of education from equipping students for further academic and intellectual studies to equipping them for “social adjustment,” becoming social citizens in participatory democracy, and to train students to be churned out into the capitalist economy. How right he was since colleges and universities are now viewed as nothing more than a means to a job or social work now.
Political philosophy is the proper study of politics. It concerns with two principle umbrella topics: one anthropological (concerning with the nature of human things and what it means to be human) and the other philosophical, particularly, metaphysical and ontological (what is nature, being, and first principles). Anthropology in political philosophy concerns itself with the seminal questions: what does it mean to be human, and from this, what is justice, what is a good regime, what is ethics and the distinction between right and wrong, are humans essentially social and communitarian beings, or are they a-social and solitary beings who desire emancipation from larger society and societal obligations and duties? The philosophical: the metaphysical and ontological, equally relate—what is the basis of the world we live in, is it governed and ordered rationally, or is it random “matter in motion”? Is monism or pluralism the first principle of existence, and what is the nature of being (onto-)?
Political philosophy is the proper study of political ideas and theory (as opposed to political science) because philosophy is what undergirds political theory and ideas. The great patrons of political traditions and schools were all philosophers, and their thoughts and beliefs concerning such questions and topics listed above influenced the formation of their ideas and theories, which, in turn, influenced the composition and directives of political movements, especially beginning with Hobbes, that sought to “actualize” the philosophy of political philosophy (or “science”).
To understand, for instance, why liberalism promotes internationalism, globalism, and economic unionism and global trade, one must understand that liberalism’s chief founders and expositors were metaphysical monists, materialists, and thought that human nature could be reduced to economism (that economic choice and consumption) drove all human action. To understand what true “pluralism” means, not “we’re all the same so let’s accept each other” but real, honest, distinctionism and difference, one must understand the traditions of metaphysical pluralism which led to particularity and particularism. Just as philosophy begat “natural science” (from natural philosophy), a proper understanding of contemporary political ideology and culture must be rooted in philosophy rather than abstracted statements like “individualism,” “rule of law,” and “separate powers.”
In the pages of Hesiod’s Corner I hope you will find worthwhile and engaging material. The mind is a terrible thing to waste. As it is, we shall endeavor to look at Athens, Jerusalem, and everything in between. Abandon all hope ye who enter and read here!