A Misesian for a Statesman
From Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the General Debate of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 24, 2022:
The West is now in a temper tantrum over the referendums in Ukraine’s Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporozhye regions. However, people there are simply reacting to the advice from the head of the Kiev regime, Vladimir Zelensky. In one of his interviews in August 2021, he advised all those who consider themselves Russians to leave for Russia for the benefit of their children and grandchildren.
This is what people living in the regions I have mentioned are doing, taking the land where their ancestors had lived for centuries with them. (Emphasis added)
I really appreciate the way Lavrov put this. The land under the people belongs to the people, not to the state that governs the people.
It is a great statement, at least in this case. Unfortunately, neither Lavrov nor Russia feel the same about, for example, Armenians in Nagorno Karabagh – a situation where Russia can have similar influence if it chooses to do so. But let’s take what we can get.
From Ludwig von Mises, The Right of Self-Determination:
It must always be possible to shift the boundaries of the state if the will of the inhabitants of an area to attach themselves to a state other than the one to which they presently belong has made itself clearly known.
The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with.
It is the only path to peace in many of the current conflicts faced throughout the world today.
The Degeneration of Beauty
Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as though it did not matter.
I was visiting in a university town, noticing that the university orchestra would be performing during my stay. Now, even though this was your typical university – where truth, objective values, open dialogue, etc., are, at best, irrelevant if not treated with disdain – I thought, “how could they mess up the orchestra?”
Ha! The opening song was unique, but at least it was recognizable as music. I say unique because it was very much in the form of progressive music. Given my fandom of progressive bands like Dream Theater and Rush, I was able to appreciate it: time signature changes, varied chord patterns, etc.
But now, time for some Mozart or Beethoven…or not.
For the next hour, the most discordant music I had ever heard. It was as if each section – violins, trombones, cellos, drums – was playing a different song in a different time signature in a different key. Well played, to be sure, but ugly.
I thought to myself: God didn’t need to give us the Bible. He could merely have offered Bach on the one hand and this monstrosity on the other – Bach to be heard in heaven and this monstrosity in hell. The straight and narrow path would have more joining in than coming out of all of the Billy Graham meetings combined. Really, I thought that this could be the music played in hell – and it would be worse than burning in fire.
It is an ancient view that truth, goodness, and beauty cannot, in the end, conflict. Maybe the degeneration of beauty into kitsch comes precisely from the postmodern loss of truthfulness, and with it the loss of moral direction.
The loss of truth – the hallmark of the modern university – must result in the loss of beauty. I wish I understood this before sitting in hell for an hour.
Better Than the Alternative
Then there is the other side. A proposed new university, The University of Austin. Compared to much of western academia, potentially a breath of fresh air. Niall Ferguson, Heather Heying, and Bari Weiss are founding trustees. The board of advisors includes Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Glenn Loury, and Jonathan Haidt, (among a few crazies…but I will come to this). Peter Boghossian is a faculty fellow. In other words, many who have been cancelled by “respectable” academia.
What do they have to say of themselves:
A COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM OF INQUIRY
We’re reclaiming a place in higher education for freedom of inquiry and civil discourse. Our students and faculty will confront the most vexing questions of human life and civil society. We will create a community of conversation grounded in intellectual humility that respects the dignity of each individual and cultivates a passion for truth.
Our North Star: The Pursuit of Truth
The examined life balances conviction with intellectual humility. By nature, we endeavor to know the world and ourselves as best we can. However, the human condition is such that we must continually question what we think we know. The ongoing pursuit of truth, however elusive truth may often be, is the highest purpose of education.
There is no value statement. We have this: “The ongoing pursuit of truth, however elusive truth may often be, is the highest purpose of education.”
We live in a world that believes the following:
Truth is after all a moving target
Hairs to split
And pieces that don’t fit
How can anybody be enlightened?
Truth is after all so poorly lit
- Rush, Turn the Page
Yes, the pursuit of truth is important, but without objective truth – above and beyond the reach of students and faculty, unquestioned, accepted as axioms – it is a pointless exercise. Minds will get molded – molded to what? Pursuing a truth of our own making. This isn’t truth.
There can be a conversation between black athletes kneeling during the national anthem and military veterans. Such a conversation, if held in an open manner, can lead to better understanding on both sides.
Can there be such a conversation about child mutilation in the name of so-called gender identity and transgenderism? Like there are pros and cons, and can’t we all just get along? It’s a farcical thought, but without a grounded worldview – outside of man’s authority – it is just as valid a topic.
How did Aristotle see the purpose of education?
… his work is a testament to the belief that our thinking and practice as educators must be infused with a clear philosophy of life. There has to be a deep concern for the ethical and political.
“…a clear philosophy of life…”
What did C.S. Lewis have to say?
Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.
So, what of some of the “crazies” associated with this endeavor? I won’t list them, but the list is easy to find: warmongers, interventionists, political and religious views across the board. Sure, as long as open dialogue is maintained, better than most western universities.
But there is no worldview grounded in objective truth. As Scruton noted above: without a moral direction, we are left with kitsch.
Therefore, students will graduate with no north star.
The Most Troubling News
Several provinces in southeastern Ukraine have voted to join Russia. This will be accepted by Russia. Not troubling if all sides wanted peace and actually cared about the people. But troubling for what it says about the certain escalation this will bring to the war.
Nord Stream pipelines exploded. Perhaps “Sudden Pipeline Death Syndrome,” as I have read somewhere. Were they “suicided”? Some captain of some ship on a faraway island decided to burn the boats, ensuring that there was no turning back home for the crew.
Whatever the cause and whoever the culprit (and we have read the same sources on this), it precludes any hope of humanitarian or negotiated return to a meaningful supply of energy for Europe. The winter just got colder.
I don’t see how this ends well. Because few people will support the view of Lavrov (at least in this case) and Mises.