Book of the Year

December 16, 2017

The best book I read this year is Kant: On History which is a collection of resplendent essays by the most understated intellect in world history, Immanuel Kant.


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Kant summarizes the worldview and optimism of The Enlightenment by being its foremost final thinker. He is so transcendentally political, his observations are stunningly brilliant in the general sense. He does not call for political machinations that are too tender to the times he writes in. He speaks in a permanent, universal sense for humanity. His thought is indeed the paragon of The Enlightenment. Though it is weak in its tacit hopefulness for universal human embrace of freedom. Perhaps he could be clearer that freedom in the population in a general sense may be too burdensome for some, which contorts politics in a direction toward subservience and thus petty theft to support individuals who do not wish to support themselves.


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Mr. Lewis Black ought to be commended for compiling these essays which I can’t imagine are even broached in an academic setting, excepting post-graduate scholarship. Which is a real shame, but makes this a real gem for stimulating the intellect. This printed edition is also spectacular.


HONORABLE MENTION: On Heroes, Hero-Worship, And The Heroic in History


First, a word of caution: Thomas Carlyle in polite society is condemned because of his egregious racist discourse which sunk his legacy (you can google it to learn more). How he arrived at his racism late in his intellectual life is typical of the fallacy of the theoretician, of that who takes a genuinely grand theory that is uncannily brilliant in explaining the tectonics of human history, and interpolates it to historical minutiae. The grand cannot fit into the cracks that let through the details. And his theory is that history is moved by, indeed history is that of the Great Man, the one with an unmatched will-to-power that emerges at different historical epochs to lead humanity forward in leaps and bounds. These men have names which are remembered by the rest of mankind whom follow their paths. It was his mistake to suggest, then, that the lack of birth of Great Man proportionally across the globe signifies some races must follow – or actually ought to be enslaved – by other races. However the empirical discrepancies in birthing historical genius, there are many factors which create the sufficient environmental conditions for such immaculate conceptions which cannot necessarily be ascribed to racial, genetic differences.


Be that as it may, this book is the framework for his theory. He proceeds to pontificate in a notoriously obnoxious rhetorical manner (but I came to actually appreciate its cadence and melodiousness) examples of Great Men. Notably, these are men which mostly influence human culture. Their contributions, the weight they pull, is unreachable by a consensus or by a community trying for the same goal. Reducibly all of society is comprised by individuals; the group indeed provides the nourishment and proper nutrients for such a burst of humanity, for a star which gestates until it has no choice but to dance. However, it still requires an individual’s effort, an intelligent agency at materializing a brave new world for the rest of mankind to trickle through.


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His discourse is incredibly fresh for a 21st century mind. For in today’s age, scientism and the pseudoscience of “social science” pervades all critical analysis of human culture. Of course, everything is reducibly evolutionary and biological, but there is such a lack of effort at actually connecting the dots for most journalists who are content with borrowing a likely flawed social study published in a biased research publication and then rudely disseminating it. The utter pollution of the discourse makes Carlyle’s language utterly pristine, especially as it pertains to the mystical. There is no evisceration of the mystery of existence in his thought. He reveres, then, a sacred aspect to human conduct which focuses on the cultivation of culture, which is perpetually in the direction of The Good.


His work is not as universally readable as Kant’s, however. Kant can speak to all minds who think of what it means to be human. Carlyle is divisive in this regard, as he precedes Nietzsche to elaborate in a less abstruse manner the dichotomy of “strong” and “weak”, of “masters” and “slaves” in a human society. This, to an egalitarian morality, is extremely discomforting.


P.S. My copy of Carlyle’s work is a horrible edition with cheap formatting. I linked to another version which can only be better.

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