Cassirer on Gobineau, etc.

In order to grasp the purport of Gobineau’s book, too, we must not read into it these later political tendencies. They are quite alien to the meaning of the author. Gobineau did not intend to write a political pamphlet but rather a historical and philosophical treatise. He never thought of applying his principles to a reconstruction or revolution of the political and social order. His was not an active philosophy. His view of history was fatalistic. History follows a definite and inexorable law.

History is no science; it is only a conglomerate of subjective thoughts; a wishful thinking rather than a coherent and systematic theory. Gobineau boasted of having made an end to this state of affairs. “It is a question of making history join the family of the natural sciences, of giving it…all the precision of this kind of knowledge, finally of removing it from the biased jurisdiction whose arbitrariness the political factions impose upon it up to this day.” Gobineau did not speak as an advocate of a definite political program but as a scientist, and he thought his deductions were infallible. He was convinced that history, after innumerable vain efforts, had at last come to maturity and virility in his work. He looked upon himself as a second Copernicus, the Copernicus of the historical world. Once we have found the true center of this world, everything is changed. We are no longer concerned with mere opinions about things, we live and move in the things themselves; our eyes are able to see, our ears to hear, our hands to touch.

Myth of the State, XVI

I hear the heavy hand of Kant in Cassirer’s attack on Gobineau, even before Cassirer cites the individual stupidities that make Gobineau’s work garbage. The hubris of purporting to move into the noumenal sphere is enough to doom him already. (Note that this is an inversion of the “Enlightenment thinking” that is usually associated with Kant and used to damn him on the same grounds that Cassirer is attacking Gobineau on here.)

I thought of this point when reading Walter Pincus’s attack on journalism today (Pincus was the old-timer Washington Post reporter who wrote story after story questioning the administration’s Iraq WMD claims in 2002, only to see all of them shunted to the back page.)

Today’s mainstream print and electronic media want to be neutral, unbiased and objective, presenting both or all sides as if they were on the sidelines refereeing a game in which only the players—the government and its opponents—can participate. They have increasingly become common carriers, transmitters of other people’s ideas and thoughts, irrespective of import, relevance and at times even accuracy.

At a time when it is most needed, the media, and particularly newspapers, have dropped the idea of having
experienced reporters provide analysis and context and turned instead to retired public figures or so-called
experts to provide commentary. It was not always this way.

Well, we can debate which of so many problems makes the current state of mainstream journalism so wretched, but the obsession with neutrality and apparent lack of bias is certainly one of them, and I wonder if it too is the same mentality at work that Cassirer attacks: that despite there being points of view, there is only one absolute News that presents them all equally, and that’s what to strive for.

I do hear that same absolutist arrogance in this little speech too:

“[The government] will not be satisfied for long with the knowledge that it has 52 per cent behind it while terrorising the other 48 per cent but will, by contrast, see its next task as winning over that other 48 per cent for itself…It is not enough to reconcile people more or less to our regime, to move them towards a position of neutrality towards us, we want rather to work on people until they have become addicted to us…”

Goebbels, March 15, 1933 (taken from Evans, 396)

As with Gobineau, that’s when purported objectivity turns into propaganda.

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