That I wrote in 2003 and that were included in the previous incarnation of the "Essential Posts".
I still think that what I refer to as Neo-Romanticism is a good response to the current cultural state of affairs. This also feeds into Socialism.
The fundamental idea is based on a couple judgments of mine about American culture. First and foremost is a perception that American culture is caught between two untenable extremes: on the one hand you have a kind of sterile cultural liberalism that sees life as a mechanical outcome of atoms running into each other, with human life being an extension of that so that human beings are kind of biological machines that are programmed to be a certain way by heredity and to a certain extent by society, although that has inexplicably fallen away some. On the other hand there's the pure reaction to this that manifests in Christian fundamentalist politics and cultural views, totally rejecting everything about science and about liberalism and replacing them with a fantasy constructed out of their dubious reading of the Bible. The second judgment is that we need a middle path between these two, something that corrects the views of sterile liberalism without going into the sort of total reaction typified by the Christian fundamentalists.
Romanticism as it existed in he early 19th century in continental Europe seems to offer some insight into how to go about doing this. My idea, taken from the Romantic thinkers somewhat, is that science has its own sphere. It can define many things, can find many innovations and improve the quality of life significantly, but that at certain point in defining the human experience it comes up short. The aspect of the human experience that it comes short on relates to the personal experience of the 'I' and the experience of intersubjectivity, that is the experience of a group of 'I's relating to each other. The products of this group experience are things like culture and relationships, attitudes on life, thoughts about the ultimate nature of reality, as well as basic things like what it's like to live in a neighborhood or a town. These things no doubt are topics that cultural anthropology can shed light on, but in the end it still is based on the experience of the 'I' as either 'I' alone or in groups. This 'I' can of course be shaped by social conditions; we don't start out from nowhere and we all live in a society whose structure is determined by things out of our immediate control; however a line must be drawn between this sort of sociological and economic reasoning and the type of reasoning that would go further than this and attribute all of it to a complex interaction of biological and ultimately chemical factors.
Which is why I talk about two spheres, the scientific and the human, with a kind of intermediate place occupied by socially structuring factors.
A Neo-Romantic viewpoint would welcome the partial light that the social sciences can throw on human behavior and society, and also welcome the advances that could be made by science, but would say that the focus of a human society is the human being itself and its experience, with possibly the experience of animals added on. It would take the focus away from determinism and towards exploring human life in all its potentials and possibilities, as well as variations.
From my perspective the deterministic mindset that is typical in many people who are very liberal is extraordinarily limiting. Life is set and even if you can do a little bit personally you're still trapped in a relationship between biology and yourself, that determines so much that to understand life we have to look at physical anthropology and the questionable sciences that try to directly link behavior to biological adaptation, from our most inner experiences outwards. In such a situation why should anyone even try to explore human life? Why should anyone even try to test the possibilities, to experience more, to develop a sense of self removed from this sort of prison of determination?
By separating out the scientific and social spheres, but leaving the door open for sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology, and trying to reorient life back to its normal focus we can present an alternative to sterile liberalism which also avoids the perils of completely and totally turning ones back on these things. Democracy and everything that the Enlightenment produced that was valuable still have a place here, unlike in the world of Christian fundamentalists, because Democracy doesn't rest on socio-biology but on a basic understanding of human societies and the possibilities inherent in the variety they represent, as well as in the potentials of the individual for directing his or her own life successfully.
This in turn feeds into socialism in that a big obstacle for socialism in the United States right now is the kind of Classical Liberal worldview, which is different from the more modern liberal worldview but which is represented in a lot of ways by the characteristics outlined above. The Classical liberal worldview has been used by people opposing socialism who ironically take the opposite of determinism to be true: that the same concepts of the individual as a sort of generic atom create the possibility for individuals to completely structure their own lives independent of social constraints, and that any action that recognizes collective experience and conditions and seeks to change them is infringing severely on the rights of the individual. This is reflected in mainstream economics, where everyone can potentially be a winner, irrespective of the fact that businesses need workers and that not everyone can be an owner or a businessman by the very nature of the constraints of the economy.
If with the paradigm of deterministic liberalism goes the doctrine of liberalism as denying any sort of collective experience or collective factors determining experience and possibilities then the way will be cleared for a socialism that honors the rights of the individual while addressing the collective problems that humanity faces.