Philosophies' Evil Twins

14 Nov 1999 02:58

David Stove remarks (in The Plato Cult, p. 112--113) that idealism was "dogged by a common and cruel parody, though a fitting one: Mrs Mary Baker Eddy." An impish providence has seen to it that idealism is not alone in this. Logical Positivism had General Semantics, which even today publishes its journal Etc. and can claim sympathy and credence from the normally acute Prof. Neil Postman. Psychoanalysis (as McCulloch, among many others, gleefully pointed out) is twinned by Dianetics, and really, between the death instinct and the primal horde on the one hand, and clams on the other, there is not much to choose. (Psychoanalysis is better than the Church of Scientology, because it's less organized, less virulent, and founded by a much better writer; though one wonders if Freud ever contemplated taking out patents.) Many forms of Marxism --- those erected into governments not least --- are self-parodying, but connoisseurs will not turn up their noses at the Tofflers' burlesque of historical materialism. Pragmatism (at least, of the James-Dewey-Rorty sort; Peirce is too revered and awful a figure for inclusion here) is confronted by people calling themselves things like "Shakti Gawain" and professing to grant, not just three wishes, but as many as can be clearly and distinctly visualized. A certain sort of historicism and historiosophy finds its paranoid climax in the works of Mr Lyndon H. LaRouche.

I am morally certain that Ayn Rand and the Objectivists are a similar parody, but I cannot for the life of me tell who they are a parody of.

Addendum. It has been pointed out to me that Rand is Aristotle's evil twin. (I regret that I have lost the e-mail which offered this inspired suggestion.) Moreover, I now have two cases of philosophers who are their own evil twins: F. A. von Hayek, who alternated between being a profound social scientist and being a right-wing ideologue, and Richard Rorty, who alternates between being a sensitive leftist political essayist, and a raving loon of a metaphysician. (3 Nov 1996)