The Corner reads the classics of analytic philosophy

by John Holbo on October 9, 2005

Being an anti-anti-elitist anti-elitist intellectual is fancy footwork. J-pod shows us how its done:

We shall see what we shall see. From here on in there’s really nothing to be said until the confirmation hearings actually begin (save for the unexpected bit of information). And so, as Wittgenstein said, "Whereof we cannot speak, therefore we must be silent" (I just put that in there to drive the anti-elitists bonkers; I actually hate Wittgenstein).

To put it another way, riding herd on the base is tough these days. Used to be you could toss it culture war red meat at semi-regular intervals. Flag-burning gay marriage. Now you have to drive it mad with quotes from the Tractatus. Presumably when it’s goaded beyond all endurance you aim it at some liberals, release and hope for the best? What’s he got against Wittgenstein, I wonder?



bob mcmanus 10.09.05 at 12:26 pm

“What’s he got against Wittgenstein, I wonder?”

My first thought is that Wittgenstein, like Kant, does not completely rule out revealed religion, and so would be compatible with conservatism.


DS 10.09.05 at 12:41 pm



Glenn Bridgman 10.09.05 at 12:45 pm

His problem is probably not with Wittgenstein qua Wittgenstein, but rather with what he perceives to be Wittgenstein’s deleterious effect on philosophy and thought in general. While Wittgenstein himself may have made some important points, J-Pod likely holds him responsible for turning philosophy into a field where it is more important to be clever than wise. Wittgenstein is the supposed progenitor of all the “tricky” philosophy that has been produced over the past half-century. In the world of National Review conservatism, this is nothing less than a catastrophe for the progress of western thought, especially when compared to the conservative ideal of the learned scholar sitting in a plush leather chair smoking a Cuban and reading Xenophon.

I’m not whether this line of reasoning has ever been explicity argued by a conservative intellectual, but the subtext is fairly evident from all the praise they heap on the Neoscholasticism they mistake for real thought.


John Holbo 10.09.05 at 12:52 pm

I didn’t even notice the ‘therefore’. That’s thoroughly amusing.


Rasselas 10.09.05 at 12:56 pm

“Wittgenstein is the supposed progenitor of all the ‘tricky’ philosophy that has been produced over the past half-century.”

He was not a great fancier of the clever over the good himself, as I recall: viz. the spells of “honest work” and self-abnegation, and the attitude towards “chatterboxes” — like, one might suggest, some syndicated columnists.

I await hungrily the day when Podhoretz attempts to phrase an attack on Old Grand-dad Heidegger. That is going to be awesome.


bob mcmanus 10.09.05 at 12:58 pm

My second reaction was the pathos of the intellectual right having to justify its existence to the base, by way of its refined taste in who and how to hate. Since they are themselves Volvo-driving latte-drinkers, they must, with great humility, be the trailing camp followers of the Movement, providing song and other oral pleasures to the weary culture warriors.

Or to reverse Witt’s ladder, they are the last Morlocks to go underground, filling the tunnel with debris as they back blindly into the darkness.


Daniel 10.09.05 at 1:29 pm

This is the “Reverse Dodd Manouvre I think.


nolo 10.09.05 at 1:52 pm

What an ass.


Kieran Healy 10.09.05 at 2:16 pm

I await the defence that “therefore” was put in instead of “thereof” as part of an even more cunning plan to drive the anti-elitists bonkers.


seth Edenbaum 10.09.05 at 2:33 pm

conservatives aren’t the only ones to heap praise on scholastics.
And of course Wit. was a self-hating member of more than one subset of humanity


engels 10.09.05 at 3:33 pm

I don’t understand why conservatives hate Wittgenstein. Surely they are in favour of throwing away the ladder once one has climbed up it?


blah 10.09.05 at 3:41 pm

I think conservatives are still mad that Wittgenstein wiped the floor with conservative icon Bertrand Russell.


Matt Austern 10.09.05 at 4:14 pm

Perhaps this is some subtle form of irony I’m missing, but…

Atheist and peace activist Bertrand Russell? The author of Why I Am Not a Christian, who was refused permission to teach in the US in the postwar era for being insufficiently anticommunist? That’s the Bertrand Russell you’re referring to as a conservative icon?


Adam Kotsko 10.09.05 at 4:18 pm

Presumably, in an “intentional clever mistake” interpretive paradigm, his goal would be to say, in that cleverly ungrammatical way: “Whereof one cannot speak — therefore… shut up! HA!” Right? (I hope he reads this, so that he can use my brilliant explanation.)

Even better, in terms of driving the anti-elitists crazy, would be to quote it slightly inaccurately in German:

Worauf man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.

(Hilarity ensues. I leave it to future generations to divine the “joke” intended in my error.)


Peter 10.09.05 at 4:43 pm

And the German sentence, of course, can be sung to the tune of “Good King Wencelas”. Was W. in a prison camp in Bohemia when he wrote this, I wonder?


nick s 10.09.05 at 4:44 pm

“I think, therefore I am not John Podhoretz.”


MQ 10.09.05 at 5:17 pm

“I await hungrily the day when Podhoretz attempts to phrase an attack on Old Grand-dad Heidegger. That is going to be awesome.”

In one of his books Rush Limbaugh let loose with a double-barreled attack on the Frankfurt School, perhaps you should look that up while you are waiting.


Delicious Pundit 10.09.05 at 6:28 pm

One is reminded of another Wittgenstein phrase (which I only know because Steve Reich set it) — “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.”


Daniel 10.09.05 at 6:44 pm

Hmmmmm I can see how the Wittgensteinian style might appeal to right wing bloggers.

5.4.1 Is this “the true face” of liberalism?

5.5 Heh! Indeed.

5.5.1 Read the whole thing.


pjs 10.09.05 at 7:24 pm

When I first came across this, I had the same reaction Holbo had: “How could anything Wittgenstein cared about come into contact with anything Podhoretz cares about?” But I think Glenn Bridgman nailed it. Podhoretz is no doubt channeling some silly Straussian gripe about how Wittgenstein turned philosophy into a highly technical vocation, one no longer interested in the grand themes of human existence and the purpose of life. If I recall correctly, Straussians define a philosopher not as someone who investigates a particular set of problem in a particular way, but as someone who, like Socrates, was not afraid of death. You can kind of see how they might think that they have a problem with the analytical tradition, even though they know nothing about it.


John Emerson 10.09.05 at 7:46 pm

Well, if Podheretz had attacked Quine or Davidson or Kripke he could have turned me into a rightwinger just like that, but I sorta like Wittgenstein because he’s so fucking weird at times.

[Cue The Troll of the Mad Spoofing Skillz.]


John Emerson 10.09.05 at 7:51 pm

Incidentally, of all those who never succeeded in writing an interesting essay or an actual book, Podheretz’s father is the most famous author, and he’s written more autobographies per unit of lived life than anyone in history.

But young Podheretz does not aspire to his father’s stature.


Daniel 10.09.05 at 8:18 pm

he’s written more autobographies per unit of lived life than anyone in history

Even Ginger Spice?


Adam Kotsko 10.09.05 at 10:04 pm

That “Good King Wencelas” thing is awesome. Thank you, Peter.


Peter 10.10.05 at 4:56 am

I should warn you, Adam, to be careful when singing Wittgenstein. Australian philosopher Charles Hamblin apparently died while setting the Tractatus to music!


nolo 10.10.05 at 8:48 am

A friend of mine in college actually wrote a song about Wittgenstein that was set to the tune of “Good King Wenceslaus.” I kid you not– but it works in so many ways. For one, if you substitute “Ludwig Wittgenstein” for “Good King Wenceslaus” in the first line of the carol, it fits perfectly. The high point was his rhyming of “Tractatus” with “epiglottis,” with “epiglottis” then being the very last word of the last line of the first verse. It was really cool.

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