Friday, May 21, 2010

Julian Huxley revisited (2)

I recall a certain fuzziness and eclecticism in Huxley's thought. This might be an English thing, but it's Huxley in any case. At least Huxley had a breadth of knowledge and cultural reference that made him far less provincial than many prominent secular humanists today. The fuzziness is evident even from the title of one of Huxley's books, Religion Without Revelation. The religious language used by figures such as Dewey and Huxley, who entered the fray on behalf of "humanism" rather than "atheism", has not always been acceptable to others in this camp.

Doing a Google search on Huxley in connection with certain keywords, I note that opposition to his ideas comes from Christian anti-humanists and anti-Darwinists, replete with misrepresentations of Huxley and evolutionary theory, sometimes with imputations of Nazi-like association with eugenics. Well, Huxley was interested in eugenics, but he unequivocally opposed Nazi racial theories and racialism generally. Huxley's writings show a breadth of sympathy for the plight of all of humanity, in the best liberal spirit, a far cry from the farrago of character assassination one finds in the aforementioned screeds.

Huxley's liberalism made him the perfect candidate for assuming leadership of the fledgling UNESCO. His political position was broad and vague enough for him to assume a position abstractly dedicated to cultural and social inclusiveness. It is also revealing how the position of liberals of his day were influenced by the social democratic or socialist tenor of the time, incorporating such social consciousness into their view of liberal democracy.

Huxley's presence in the postwar era is marked by an affirmation of individual liberty and freedom of thought (combined with social responsibility) in opposition to the twin horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. The only Marxism Huxley knew was the Soviet variant, and so any coincidental similarities between some of his statements and the views of dissident Marxists were unknown to him. In a future post I will delve into his comments on Marxism and materialism. Interestingly, Huxley was no reductionist. He distinguished cultural from biological evolution, for example. His broad evolutionary perspective, and his social analyses, however, do not coalesce into a sufficiently elaborated, structured, and concrete socio-historical framework. There is no discussion of imperialism, for example, something which should have been on the mind of an Englishman at that time. And there is no class analysis beyond the general recognition of social stratification.

This critique is, not surprisingly, absent from criticisms of Huxley from within the humanist camp. Here is one assessment:

"Evolutionary Humanism Revisited: The Continuing Relevance of Julian Huxley" by Timothy J. Madigan

On Huxley's role in UNESCO, see:

Introduction: Visions and Revisions. Defining UNESCO’s scientific culture, 1945–1965 by Patrick Petitjean

(To be continued . . .)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Julian Huxley revisited

Many years ago (decades, most likely) I read two of Julian Huxley's books: Religion without Revelation and Knowledge, Morality, and Destiny (formerly titled New Bottles for New Wine*). I remember mostly some remarks from the latter, in the essay "A Re-definition of Progress", that contradicted the reactionary mysticism of Julian's brother Aldous (p. 20, 34-5).

Aldous reviled "the religion of Inevitable Progress" and replaced that ideal with "unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground of being". Aldous stressed self-development rather than social transformation, characterizing self-development as a transcendental dissolution of self in the eternal Divine Ground (per Aldous' notion of The Perennial Philosophy). Julian did not go for this. Years earlier, as a teenager, I admired Aldous Huxley but later found his mysticism too repellent to accommodate. Hence I noted his brother's dissent. (Years later I wrote a rather crude critique of reactionary utopianism: Screed on the Politics of Utopianism.)

Otherwise, though my philosophy in my teenage years was pretty much congruent with Julian's liberal humanism, by the time I read his work I found it philosophically and politically behind the curve, however appreciative I was of the repudiation (albeit diplomatic) of his brother. Skipping ahead: I perused one or both of these books again four years ago, and Knowledge, Morality, and Destiny within the past two weeks, whereupon I noted Julian's philosophical laxity in defining his humanism as a religion, coupled with his repudiation of materialism. I will have more to say about this in a future post.

Some essays by Julian Huxley online:

Transhumanism” (1957)

"The New Divinity"

"The Coming New Religion of Humanism"

And see:

Julian Huxley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

* This latter work was published in 1957. My copy was published under the new title: New York: Mentor Books, 1960.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jacques Vallee's "Passport to Magonia" revisited

In a previous post (Gods, UFOs, Zen, epistemology, autonomy) I mentioned scientist and UFO investigator Jacques Vallee. Of the two books mentioned, I now think that Passport to Magonia is the principal book of relevance to that discussion. The entire book is available online:

Passport to Magonia

The preface and table of contents of the original 1969 edition are missing, but I hope to scan them and make them available. Otherwise, I call your attention to chapter 5: 'Nurslings of Immortality', particularly the final sections 'The Functioning Lie' and 'Conjectures' (pp. 148-163 in the text, pp. 80-87 in the PDF file), which summarize the epistemological questions engaged by Vallee.

Note the other works by Vallee available on the same web site:

You can also download this book at Downtr:

See also Vallee's own web site:

Jacques F. Vallee