Reaction to Herf's book.
Herf wrote a good book called "Reactionary Modernism", which traces the strange synthesis of ideas of modern and conservative which layed the basis for the totalitarianism of the Third Reich. However, he's not a historian of ideas but a sociologist and, on top of the constant moralizing, doesn't do justice to the fact that people who were reactionary modernists, the sort of Conservative Revolutionaries described in my posts on totalitarianism, might have had at least some justification in thinking that modern technology was emancipated from reason as conventionally understood.
The fact was that back at the turn of the century it looked like reason as an all embracing form was collapsing as an explanatory measure of how the universe worked; to understand this it's really important to distinguish between Reason, with a big R, which these people were criticizing, and reason, small r, which means general logical thinking.
The analytic philosophers, proceeded by Comte and others, were looking at a world in which the explanations given by science were only complete in and of themselves and didn't suggest anything grander laying behind them. The world, and the technology flowing from an understanding of that world, then, appeared to operate on occult causes which, while they could be understood in a sense could not be added up to give any cohesive meaning relevant to how humans usually tend to think of the world. No world view was forthcoming although more understanding of the world itself was available than ever before. So in this vacuum why not think that the modern world had emancipated itself from Reason and that other forces, pushed down by Reason, might not be more appropriate for understanding things?
I mean, if technology is seen as coming down to no more than the self contained outcomes of independent and disconnected experimentation then saying that will or blood or nation are concepts that have meaning doesn't threaten the capability of scientists and technicians to do the same sorts of things in the lab that they're already doing. No great intellectual sacrifice is required since these realms deal with the non-scientistic aspects of life which, of course, have no bearing on a self contained and non-explanatory science.
A Nazi pagan can do the same sorts of physics research as an atheist technocrat provided that he doesn't seek to verify his beliefs in the lab.
But the very categories that the conservative revolutionists sought to view the non-scientific parts of society through were formed by the same un-rootedness of modern life that was reflected in the occult/totally disconnected analytical positivism. Will, race, blood, nation (in their use of the latter) are all concepts which apply to a Nietzschean world Beyond Good and Evil, where direct moral statements are proven to be absurd by their unprovability and the demonstration of their historical origins and utilitarian and, in their eyes, really dishonest aspects.
Race feeling and science feeling then are connected by the same lack...the lack of something over and above them which can really be proven to be grounded in reality. Any attempt at getting to a reality of this sort from deracinated concepts and categories such as these will lead to something very elaborate which has nothing to do with the real world but which, through its own logic, can't be proven not to have something to do with the real world: totalitarianism, in other words.
What, then, are antidotes for these ailments, seeing as, at least in the case of analytic philosophy, the issues raised aren't mere child's play to be dismissed?
For analytical science I think the solution is to sidestep the problem and instead focus on the natural sciences as opposed to the strictly physical sciences, and on the worldview which comes from a natural or ecological understanding of the world as opposed to one based solely on the paradigms of modern physics and chemistry.
Not an original idea; Fritjof Capra expressed something similar in his probably really flawed when it comes to hard science book "The Tao of Physics".
But what about the human aspect? Ecological thinking won't work there or we're back at sociobiology and social darwinism.
Unless there are aspects of life which can be said to form the human landscape or web of ecological type connection.
I think that what this is was what people for centuries looked at through the liberal arts and through humanistic education.
Morals, values, right and wrong, good and evil, virtue, friendship, relationships, all of these are areas of questions that have been with us since the beginning of human history. Could it be that they occupy the place they do because, behind them, lie the rudiments of a 'human ecology'? In the same way that creatures and the earth are all connected by complex webs, not chains, of interaction could it be that the reason these areas have persisted as being thought of as valuable is that there's something in the nature of the situations, issues, feelings, etc... that they deal with which make up irreducable parts of the human experience.....which then interact with each other and through society and through individuals in webs of influence and interaction not unlike the action of the natural ecology?
But with a catch: and the catch is this---that to view these things properly one must be thoroughly immersed in them, so that making any grand statement about their utility or disutility or about what purpose they eventually serve...in anything other than in a real and limited sociological context.....is impossible and will always be wrong.
So if they form the makeup of the human ecology then to deal with them we have to make the same leap that comes in going from the physical sciences to the natural sciences: giving up on thinking that the explanation of them can come from some sort of ultimate grounding and instead trying to deal with them on their own terms.