Who Leads the West and Why: Trump or Merkel? Constitutional Cultures in the United States and Germany

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Theodor Fontane, the master of German realist fiction, published his first novel, Before the Storm, in 1876. Set during the winter of 1812–13, in and around Berlin, it explores the decisive historical moment when Prussia changed sides—breaking out of its forced alliance with France in order to side with Russia in the anti-Napoleonic war. Yet the dialectic of the moment was such that Germans could join in the rout of the French while nonetheless embracing aspects of the French revolutionary legacy. Thus near the conclusion of the novel, the Prussian General von Bamme, commenting on social changes around him, a reduction in traditional structures of hierarchy, speculates, “And where does all this come from? From over yonder, borne on the west wind. I can make nothing of these windbags of Frenchmen, but in all the rubbish they talk there is none the less a pinch of wisdom. Nothing much is going to come of their Fraternity, nor of their Liberty: but there is something to be said for what they have put between them. For what, after all, does it mean but: a man is a man.” Mensch ist mensch.

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Now Available: For a New Naturalism, edited by Arran Gare and Wayne Hudson

Telos Investigations is a new book series that collects papers delivered at Telos-Paul Piccone Institute conferences. The first volume in the series, For a New Naturalism, edited by Arran Gare and Wayne Hudson, is now available for purchase in our online store. Save 20% on the list price by using the coupon code BOOKS20 during the checkout process.

Western civilization has been afflicted by a divide between the sciences and the humanities, a divide that has been harmful to both. The first volume in our new Telos Investigations series, For A New Naturalism elaborates the implications of recent developments in natural philosophy that challenge both Cartesian dualism and reductionism. The contributors to this volume write from a variety of political, philosophical, and scientific standpoints. They all agree, however, that a civilization based on reductionist naturalism, with its impoverished understanding of both human life and the universe, is failing to generate the political and social thought we need. And they all support the need for a wider naturalism than the objectivating naturalism that emerged in seventeenth-century Europe. In addressing the contested status of naturalism in contemporary philosophy, the contributions to this volume question both prevailing assumptions about nature and assumptions about what is knowledge. They argue for a new alliance between science and the humanities, and spell out some of the implications of this challenge for philosophy, society, and religion.

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Adam Smith's Dilemma and the Algonquian Model of Political Virtue

Adam Smith is usually remembered as a champion of commerce. But as a moral philosopher he understood that even as commerce inculcates the virtues of industry, frugality, and temperance, it also inculcates vices such as avarice, envy, and short-sighted self-centeredness. Smith recognized that good government requires virtues such as honor, moral rectitude, patriotism, magnanimity, and a far-sighted perspective, to which the commercial vices are fairly opposed. Smith considered this a problem in his own day, as Great Britain was threatening to become a nation of shopkeepers, ruled by classes trained not in statesmanship but in commerce, governed not by codes of honor but by self-interest. The problem has resonance today as well.

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Michael Ley on the Suicide of the West: The Islamization of Europe

In his account of the impact of Islam on Europe, Michael Ley pulls no punches, especially for all those readers, like the present reviewer, who still hope that a Muslim humanism and not Islamist terrorism will become the primary social movement in global Islam in the years to come. In a nutshell, Ley’s main theses are the following: Orthodox and radical Islam are the scourge of humanity. Ley calls Sharia Islam “the worst danger for democracy and human rights in the 21st Century.” Only an Islam without Sharia is compatible with human rights. Yet that is a vision for the future; current reality, according to Ley, is different. The Islamization of Europe is, according to Ley, the most visible change in most European societies. While liberal and educated citizens consider the increasing influence of conservative and radical Islam with great concern and regard the future of the continent as rather bleak, their so-called progressive opponents interpret the ongoing Islamization as a cultural enrichment that contributes to the historical overcoming of the obsolete nation-state. Ley goes as far as to say that today the pioneers of radical post-national Europe would prefer to abolish all symbols of national identity: indigenous Europeans should waive all national, cultural, religious, and ultimately also traditional sexual identities.

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Evaluating Enlightenment: Progressive Critiques of Modernity in Rationalization and Ecology

The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For additional details about this and upcoming conferences, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

What is modernity? First, a period “occasioned by a peculiarly ahistorical view of the world, which is flattened into an eternal present. The world we experience appears to exhaust all possible worlds.” Second, modernity is deeply rooted in the three Kantian principles of Enlightenment: “‘What can know?’ the question of knowledge; of the ‘What should I do?’ which is the question of ethics, and of the ‘What can I hope?'”

The Western modern project is dependent upon both Greek and Hebrew antiquity. In ancient Ionia, Thales of Miletus predicted a solar eclipse, Anaximander predicted the changing of the seasons, Theodorus invented the ruler, the carpenter’s square, and the level, and Hippocrates began accumulating medical knowledge through trial and error. These “pre-Socratic” Ionians were merchants and artisans; they worked with their hands, whereas the Athenians were engaged primarily in contemplation.

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Jonathan Israel: The Enlightenment Reconsidered

From the 2015 Telos Conference in New York City, the following is a video of Jonathan Israel’s keynote presentation, “The Enlightenment Reconsidered: A Contemporary Controversy.” For further details about the conference, which addressed the theme of “Universal History, Philosophical History, and the Fate of Humanity,” visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

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