Spirituality can be cultivated even by scholars. The study of Sanskrit, because it is the language in which Indic Religions and Yogic traditions are expounded, has enhanced the spiritual power of oppressed people- some, like Aurobindo, incarcerated and in danger of the hangman's noose- to fight for their liberation of their country. On the other hand, some worthless cretins teaching in shite University Departments can claim a credential or two in Sanskrit. But they can't liberate themselves from anything or would lose their jobs if they did overcome their own stupidity.
As a case in point, Justin E.H Smith has a confused post at substack which concludes that 'taking to Twitter to assert one’s antifascist bona-fides is just as futile as studying Sanskrit in resistance to authoritarian communism. Just as futile, and a lot less interesting.' This is a remarkably obtuse statement. Taking to Twitter to denounce a Fascism which does not exist can't be compared to a Chinese scholar who is studying Sanskrit for the purpose of enabling a spiritual and inward resistance to a Communist regime which is genuinely authoritarian and which may be killing off the golden goose of enterprise as more and more young Chinese graduates voice a preference for the safety and prestige of a Civil Service job.
Sanskrit is important not just because of China's Buddhist heritage. The fact is, as Victor Mair has pointed out, Sanskrit literary theory affected the evolution of the Chinese literary language in a manner which altered the ethos of the Mandarin class and directly affected notions of ethical Statecraft and thus challenged the legitimacy of particular styles of exercising power. I may mention the names of scholars like Ji Xianlin who suffered during the Cultural Revolution and the manner in which they were partially rehabilitated once collectivization began to be reversed. Indeed, Chinese Sanskritists cultivated a 'close reading' tradition which fostered a similar 'close reading' of Marx and the discovery that what that Prophet actually said was 'to each according to his contribution'. In other words, pragmatism and 'inner depth' could make a comeback so as to raise up the material standard of living of the people.
Smith begins his essay by bringing up the murder of Culianu- a crazy Romanian Professor interested in sex magic and other such nonsense- who had replaced and turned against Mircea Eliade- a perverted charlatan. The utterly dotty Wendy Doniger is the current incumbent of the chair those two guys shat upon.
Smith takes all this very personally. He writes- what interests me is the model Culianu provides of a certain form of life:
a life spent pretending magical shite aint nonsense but rather deserves 'academic' study. Also, a life spent getting the fuck away from anywhere politics can get you thrown in jail and tortured.
the life that is political
Culianu was into magical shite- not politics. There may have been a time when some such nutters could get a little money for pretending to fight the regime back home but the truth is the West preferred to build up Ceaucescu who was considered to be relatively independent of the Kremlin. Also he had oil money. Indeed Culianu only started ranting against the Romanian regime after the transition to Democracy.
even in its insistence on carving out and preserving a space —you might call it a ‘sacred’ space— for the non-political.
It wasn't a sacred space at all. It was a batshit crazy magical space. This is like saying Aleister Cowley was creating a space of resistance to Lloyd George and Churchill.
However much we today dismiss ‘horseshoe’ theories of ideology as a midwit dodge,
But there was a lot of 'convergence' a la Tinbergen, Galbraith & c. Once China let its private sector burgeon it looked more and more like a Western 'mixed' economy. Romania, in the Nineties, explicitly took the Social Democratic route. As for the far-left or far-right fringes, who gave a fuck whether they were similar or not? The fact is, when the shit hits the fan, the ex-Khalqi in Afghanistan could turn Taliban just as the ex-Baathist in Iraq could turn ISIS. Why dismiss facts which stare us in the face? Did Trotskyites not turn Neo-Con?
it was a simple and obvious fact that the fascists and the communists made life difficult for many people in the twentieth century in truly convergent ways, that their symbolism, tactics, and even membership were drawn from a common reserve
This is nonsense. They recruited from different classes though, no doubt, there were some turn-coats.
(King Mihai himself switched sides from the Axis to the Allies only in 1944, participating in a coup against the fascist dictator Antonescu whom he had previously enabled — perhaps this was after suffering a pang of conscience, but surely the king also noticed which way the wind was blowing),
There is no perhaps about it. Horthy too switched sides.
and that the most natural and principled expression of protest against either of them was not to express convictions of the opposite kind, but rather to bury your nose in your Sanskrit dictionary and to say to hell with you all.
But, if you could read a Sanskrit dictionary, you might be conscripted into the Indian branch of the Waffen SS or something of that sort. Only being completely useless, kept you safe from being used. Anyway, Culianu mentions the Sanskrit dictionary only so as to pretend that he wasn't paying attention when he attended Communist party meetings and thus should be allowed to emigrate to Amrika where he could eat plenty of pizzas while pretending to be a Warlock.
Is that, perhaps, what is meant by ‘liberalism’?
No. Liberalism does not mean being a useless tosser who pretends to know magic. It involves building up Civil Society and seeking to establish countervailing power over arbitrary State actors.
The freedom to retreat into dusty books, just because they call out to you, and in the service of no cause?
Or the freedom to just masturbate incessantly while staring vacantly at a bowl of oranges.
Is this the ‘liberal studies’ that a place like the University of Chicago is supposed to foster,
No. Chicago was pretending that Eliade, Culianu, Doniger etc. were disciplined scholars as opposed to nutcases pulling sexed up shit out of their arses.
but that the communist-era University of Bucharest had made impossible with its subordination to party directives?
Whereas Professors at Chicago are subordinate to having to read the dreck their students produce by way of dissertations. Also they have to watch out for Title IX violations. Sad.
Or, as the progressive left never tires of insisting, is liberalism, in both its humanistic and its more overtly political inflections, always at best an unwitting toleration of the conditions that lead to fascism, and at worst an active promoter of these conditions?
If you are not yourself incessantly masturbating while gazing vacantly at a bowl of oranges, is it not the case that you are unwittingly creating the very conditions which force billions of cisgender proletarians to incessantly masturbate while gazing vacantly at a bowl of oranges? Wake up sheeple! We must ban bowls of oranges! How much longer must Fascism triumph by enfeebling cisgender proles through the depletion of their vital bodily fluids?
And could the porous boundary between the two be any more vividly illustrated than at Chicago, where free-market economists helped to conjure the justification for a repressive right-wing dictatorship in South America,
While it was the Harvard Econ Dept which fucked up Yeltsin's Russia and thus paved the path to Putin. There is no 'porous boundary' between Milton Friedman and Nazism- unless you believe Hitler was a nice Jewish girl with a degree in Home Economics from Bryn Mawr.
No doubt, Friedman- but also Stiglitz- was wrong about how different economic policies would affect the political trajectory of far off countries- Chile, Indonesia etc- but that is because Economics, as taught at Uni, is shit which is why Professors there aint billionaires.
and where a former member of the political wing of the Garda de Fer fostered the sort of scholarly work on yoga and tantric sex that would appear as if custom-designed for Americans shaped by the free-love revolution, soon to be fully marketized, of the 1960s?
So what? Paul de Man, at Yale, was even worse and, what's more, didn't even have a Degree.
The Mircea Eliade Chair in Comparative Religion would be filled for many years after its namesake’s death by Wendy Doniger, whose work on the erotic practices of Hindus in centuries past would in turn enflame the anger of the Hindutva fascists in India.
No. It enflamed the anger of Hindus who had emigrated to America and who had made a lot of money there and who wanted to increase their own power and influence. Back in the Seventies, they found it hilarious that Doniger thought South Indian Brahmin ladies chopped off their heads of their husbands after fucking them. Then they realized they were paying top dollar to send their own daughters to prestigious Universities where they might end up taking a course on Sanskrit mythology and thus be brainwashed into turning into homicidal hippies.
The bigger problem was that America was a deeply Christian country where, to do well in politics, voters must believe you come from a puritanical religion which forbids sexy shenanigans. In any case, American Hindus don't want to be represented by crazy biddies like Doniger as opposed to successful CEOs like Indra Nooyi.
As for 'Hindu fascists'- they triumphed in India in 1947. Ten years previously, Govind Vallabh Pant described Gandhi, flatteringly, as the 'Il Duce and Fuhrer of India'. Netaji Bose went one step further and went to meet Hitler and recruited Indian P.O.Ws for the Waffen SS before joining forces with the Japanese in South East Asia. Incidentally, there was an Indian Nazi Party. The crazy Franco-Greek Maths teacher, Savitri Devi, had a marriage of convenience with an Indian astrologer who, after the War, had a cozy relationship with the Congress Party. Moreover, it was Indira who had a strong interest in Tantric bullshit. Foreign Secretary Rasgotra arranged an Occultist Conference for her in the early Eighties. The English poetess, Kathleen Raine, has written a book articulating her own puzzlement at being invited to this bizarre event. The explanation, however, was simple. Mrs G was establishing a dynasty by using black magic of a sort her ancestors pretended to have mastered. That's why the diplomatic colony in New Delhi always had some truly crazy Ambassadors- like Serrano. The truth is Nehru himself had a superstitious side. Indeed, he arranged Dhirendra Bhramacharee to provide 'Yogic therapy', with his dick, for his daughter. This was fine because the Kaula sect was Tantric. They were cool with Eliade and Serrano and Doniger and other such crazies for the same reason that the Narayan Murthy family is cool with Sheldon Pollock's bollocks because Pollock is praising their own hereditary sect and language while shitting on the Hinduism of the vast majority of Indians.
Smith's magpie mind leads him next to Proust, who died before Communism or Fascism had much salience.There are of course many reasons why one might end up learning a bit of Sanskrit.
captivated by reminders of their own family’s Germanness, by all of the von particles and Graf titles among their cousins and uncles. This fascination is of course a reflection backwards in time, toward the mythology of the forging of the French national identity out of a Germanic Frankish nobility ruling over Gaulic commoners.
There can never be anything more than contextual cues to tell us whether a person’s immersion in books
In a very interesting recent article, Eskil Elling discusses Thomas Mann’s 1918 book, Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man. The German author had insisted on what he called “the unpoliticizability of the absolute”, and maintained that his task as an author was precisely to orbit around and to approach the absolute.
It’s worth noting that Mann was not alone in inter-war Germany in his effort to keep politics at a distance; one might also cite
This observation will itself ‘hit different’ in the era of social media, which is at bottom an engine for the daily production of new miniature Dreyfus affairs.
Under these conditions, it is inevitable that both-sidesism, with all its attractions and dangers, will make a return.