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Booknotes: The Science Of Liberty

February 17th, 2010 · No Comments

I also reviewed Ferris’ The Science Of Liberty. It won’t appear right away as a second review in one day.

I recommend a look at the eonic effect if you wish to indulge in causal analysis questions to do with the history of liberalism.

Despite its breezy style and superficial charm, this book, whether from ignorance or unspoken design, ventures into a quagmire of its own making, a point visible in the title itself. What a pity, since the book has a lot of potentially interesting material. But it seems to be a devious or sneaky book in the way it proceeds in a curious conspiracy of silence of its own making. What sort of tactic, naivete or deliberate terminological aggression, would drive a scientific author to use, without a single reference to the discourse of Kant et al., a phrase so provocative, the ‘science of liberty’? The idea of a ‘science of freedom’ was one of the deepest strains of the philosophy of history (and an idea with its own share of confusions, and rockets blowing up on the launchpad)and the whole basis was a critique of the rising tide of Newtonian scientism and reductionism. Granted Hegel on the ‘science of freedom’ is an extravagant metaphysical archaeology lost to us, but still, to steal the idea to subsitute reductionist scientism, and bad sociology, is not much progress.

To write a book with this title on modernity ignoring a central choral thematic entirely is spooky, and drives one to query the author’s intentions, or competence. His competence is adequate, thus it must be propaganda in action to fool the science peanut gallery, who will agree to anything, as long as ‘science can explain it’ is on the label.
To coopt this phrase in the way that Ferris does leaves one nettled and unnerved by the arrogance of science propaganda in action, that will mislead readers by simply deleting reference to the history of the discourse in question. I do not wish to be unfair or get into one-star mode here, since it is probable the author is himself the victim of the overdose of science enthusiasm in the cult of scientism that declares science to the solution to all mysteries, including here, preposterously, the origin of liberalism.

To propose that science is the cause of liberalism is surely a false and superficial analysis of the case. If science is the cause of liberalism, what, pray tell, is the cause of the Romantic movement? Oops, again science is the answer: the Romantics were the first to produce the critique of universalist reductionism in the name of science, that is to say, fake explanations like this one. So science must have caused it (haha!).
The question of the rise of liberalism is extremely complex, and while it is obviously worth a try to look at the influence of science in the emergence of open societies it is not helpful to smear over the complexity of the development of liberal societies with this kind of groupie science club type of explanation. Freedom and causality are complements, as Kant saw, and require a model of their independent and reciprocal development, therefore something beyond causal science. Now we have it. Liberalism analyzed would require a new kind of science.
Let me note again that this book seems precisely pegged to displace the tradition here, e.g. the immense discourse of Kant and others on the idea of freedom, at the dawn of the age of liberalism. To write such a book and not discuss Kant with the title the author chooses takes one’s breath away, and the harm done to the unsuspecting is disgraceful scholarship.
In general the rise of liberalism is a tough thing to explain. We need to stand back and look at world history as whole and not indulge in line item explanations. In the totality of world history in its evolutionary complexity the rise of science, and the emergence of liberalism have independent histories going back to Sumer, at least. And the question of the Axial Age, and the mysterious resemblance of the modern transition to such ‘axial’ periods in its explosive discontinuity, almost like a punctuated equilibrium, looms in the background making most sociological thinking inadequate to the task.

Modern science has been unable to produce a science of history for the simple reason that its own attempt to produce a science of freedom has been a reductionist effort to eliminate freedom from discussion. The way toward such a science was indicated by Kant. It is unbelievable he doesn’t appear in such an account.
We have gone to the dogs already. No other conclusion is possible.
Lead this author off to remedial Kantstudien forthwith.

Tags: Booknotes · liberalism · Science · The Eonic Effect

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