LVCAN MAG
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LVCAN MAG

LVCAN MAG — An Introduction

“Loo-Can Mag”

LVCAN MAG is a publication found only right here, on Medium. It is a personal project and in no way a business. It used to be called FORVM. It seeks to publish quality pieces of criticism, commentary, philosophy, history, fiction — and more. Basically everything except commercial or business writing. Despite the fecundity of classical statuary and 18th century book engravings throughout the magazine’s house style and design, there is no actual editorial focus on these time periods, nor on any other. — Though I myself will be happily populating the pages of LVCAN with all manner of reflection and digression on Antiquity and The Enlightenment. If you’re looking for more details about submitting work, take a look at the Call for Submissions.

The rest of this piece will be aimed at more fully describing the spirit of the magazine, and its aims.

THE SPIRIT OF THE MAGAZINE

The animating spirit of this magazine is the spirit of The Enlightenment, and, because of this, it is also the spirit of Antiquity. This sounds like a grandiose formulation, but what it actually refers to is a simple historical fact: although today we mostly remember 18th century Europe as a time of unbridled enthusiasm for modernity, for remaking everything, the philosophes themselves would be the first to tell you that their work was just as backward-looking as it was forward. To a member they were deeply enamored with the Ancient Mediterranean, and with Classical Rome in particular. The suffusion of The Enlightenment with ideas, attitudes, and models from Antiquity is a phenomenon so sweeping and total that it is difficult to give any kind of adequate summary of it in the short time we have together. The task is made more difficult still by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people have never had occasion to learn about the different schools and traditions of the Classical Age, and so lack even a thumbnail idea of what “ideas, attitudes, and models” I might be referencing above.

Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot each wrote extensive, highly personal studies of Cicero, Horace, and Seneca, respectively — studies that made it clear that they each identified closely with the lives and thoughts of these men. Lives that were marked by the rigorous pursuit of personal virtue, engagement with public affairs, the enjoyment of urbane society; thought that was marked by naturalism, eclecticism, and an overriding focus on the cultivation of happiness on Earth.

LVCAN MAG heartily endorses these values; LVCAN MAG supports The Enlightenment project, and supports it passionately. If this sentence sets off all kinds of alarms in your head, then you are reading the right magazine. This is because you must be aware, then, that The Enlightenment has been made into yet another front on the culture war.

It is the editorial stance of LVCAN MAG that The Enlightenment has been co-opted by some of the most incurious, self-satisfied people in the public sphere. I mean this nasty sweep to include the untalented freshmen at Quillete and the self-parodying Western Culture Appreciators on Twitter. I mean it to include people who can hold in their heads at once the idea that The Enlightenment is one of the most important springs for the well of our culture and that the Left’s free-ranging criticism of the way civil society is structured is a harbinger of the end of Western civilization. Which is to say: people who can claim The Enlightenment as their inheritance while at the same time doing a pitch-perfect impression of everyone who opposed the philosophes and their Enlightenment during their own time [1].

But I am getting a little overheated. Again — I am passionate about this stuff. David Hume has been my personal hero since I was 17; I slept with his famous “Be a philosopher, but be still a man” quote from the Enquiry taped above my bed until I moved out during college, at which point I took it with me. When I was diagnosed with cancer last year I thought of Hume’s good nature on his deathbed — himself laid low by cancer. I thought about the Stoicism (capital S) and the humor he showed to Boswell. I found, to my eternal pride, that I displayed the same, and that, more than that, it didn’t feel like an act; it didn’t feel like I was trying to be brave for others. To put it another way: I had achieved ataraxia, a proper reward for years of studying philosophy. But does this seem like mere self-aggrandizement? Maybe it does. The point, anyway, is that I remained a philosophe even in my foxhole goddammit — I don’t just get swept into a writerly voice of outrage by the rhythm of my own rhetoric and argument— I’m just outraged, outright, when I see the legacy of that company and their worked flattened, misrepresented, and misappropriated.

In the hands of the right-of-center commentariat, the legacy of The Enlightenment has been pummeled into something like “Reason is the paramount thing and logically the most optimal course is for us to allow reason as free a reign as possible to investigate everything it can. The judicious application of reason can yield us true and objective knowledge about the world, see: Science” [2]. As if this is an intellectual position that in any way differentiates a person from anyone else. As if, aside from quibbling about the finer print on the already-eternally contested words “true” and “objective,” any thinker would dissent from this sentiment.

Every school of philosophy believes reason (however contrived) is central to human life, and believes that it is exercising this central faculty to its furthest legitimate extent [3]. The only people in the Western Canon who legitimately don’t think that this exercise yields them truth and objective knowledge — or something so close to objective knowledge that it doesn’t make a practical difference — are the most committed of Academic and Pyrrhonian Skeptics in Ancient Greece. All of whom were portrayed by their contemporaries as being untenably strange in their everyday conduct and teaching. Pyrrho was basically the only relativist who actually lived a completely relativist everyday life, apparently wandering through traffic and construction sites across the polis like some Ancient Mr. Magoo, if we are to believe his students’ accounts. But aside from this likely exaggerated figure we find that every person who considered themselves a philosopher, across the wide earth and all of its history, would assent to the “Reason is the paramount thing and logically the most optimal…” creed as written above. This is because the creed is a tautology. It is universally applicable and therefore useless; it does not belong to the Western intellectual tradition because it belongs to every intellectual tradition recorded.

As I’ve mentioned already, the actual identifying characteristics of the loose movement of The Enlightenment are— among other things — naturalism, eclecticism, and an overriding focus on the cultivation of human happiness. The philosophes were not naive devotees of detached reason and they were not complacent optimists about human progress. On the contrary the philosophes heaped scorn on those who thought reason was omnipotent, who attempted to fit the entire universe into a rational system. Does this surprise you? The Enlightenment wasn’t defined by a belief that human intellect could illuminate every part of the world— that was the preceding age, the 17th century; the century of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. The most astounding works of Enlightenment philosophy — Hume’s Treatise, Kant’s first Critique — are instead focused almost entirely on explicating the limits of reason, on arguing how it can’t hope to go beyond the evidence of our sense perceptions, which are themselves lowly, uncertain things indeed.

The point of all of this isn’t to write a sophomore paper about the history of Western Philosophy, though. The point here is to stress that The Enlightenment of historical reality does not match up at all with The Enlightenment of center-right propaganda. The current living heir of The Enlightenment — a man who, intellectually, is just as pedigreed in his descent from Immanual Kant as Queen Elizabeth II is in her descent from George III — is philosopher Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is also, famously, the last living member of what historians have called The Frankfurt School. Shock! Horror. But it’s true.

Habermas’ final version of The Frankfurt School— that most persistent boogeyman of the right-wing imagination — carries on the spirit of The Enlightenment better and truer than any social reactionary writing today. The idea of a “critical theory” is possibly the most Enlightenment idea possible. A theory is a critical theory only insofar its elucidation is liberating in its effect; only insofar its works “to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of humans,” as one of Habermas’ predecessors put it. This is The Enlightenment project in epigram. The philosophes constantly inveighed against the otherwordly, unengaged disputations of the Scholastics and the rationalists who succeeded them. Kant, that most abstracted and titanic of Enlightenment minds, famously argues in his essay “Was ist Aufklärung?”, “What is Enlightenment?”, that the essence of Enlightenment is the “public use” of reason: using reason in the audience of a reading public to help solve matters of public concern. In contrast, “private use” of reason — the use of reason in the execution of an official post, for instance— “may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment.” The paragraph distinguishing these types of reason and arguing for the primacy of public reason is the largest in Kant’s essay. As Peter Gay tells us in his incomparable study of the time period:

As experienced polemicists, the philosophes, I think, would not have been surprised had they known that their successors would ridicule them as system makers, shallow rationalists, and impractical dreamers — for being, in a word, the very Utopians they had taken care not to be.

Compare this constant exhortation to critique and improve human society to the constant wheezing of a figure like Jordan Peterson, who tells us that we ought to humbly swear off political or social activism. “Cultivate your garden,” he admonishes, referencing either Epicurus or the famous final lines of Candide, or both; don’t interfere with the public sphere when your own private sphere still needs work. Compare the philosophes exhortation to critique and improve human society to Steven Pinker’s corpus of political writing, which amounts to a refrain of “I don’t think we need to make any big changes, really — just a few technocratic fixes here or there.” Nothing could be further from the politics and attitudes of the philosophes. Voltaire, the author of Candide, apparently didn’t understand his book as an injunction to not meddle with society, since he spent the rest of his life in basically ceaseless activism — as did most of his contemporaries.

It is this focus on reason-in-action, reason that is not idle, but engaged with the world that we humans live in, that guides LVCAN MAG’s philosophy — as you’ve been reading about ad nauseum. It also helps guides the magazine’s goals; what it hopes to achieve with the spirit and viewpoint it is cultivating.

THE AIMS OF THE MAGAZINE

The primary goal of this magazine, frankly, is reclamation. It is reconquista. Some fellow travelers have already done great work to reclaim the skull as symbol from the reactionary right. LVCAN MAG humbly commences the effort to reclaim The Enlightenment and pagan Antiquity from the same reactionaries. All of the revenants that haunt the nightmares of the right — critical theory, social justice, the increasing diversification of society at all levels — these things are nothing less than the true heirs to the tradition of critique that is The Enlightenment’s gift to the rest of the intellectual canon. Despite what self-described “Occidentalists” will tell you, Rome was a multiethnic, multicultural empire, and in their own deliciously sensible, Roman way, the rulers of that empire understood this, and understood that this meant that it was therefore vital to integrate and tolerate new peoples and cultures. By the late 2nd century an Italian-born Emperor was a legitimate rarity; Iberians, North Africans, Illyrians, Syrians and at least one Arab sat on the throne to no controversy whatsoever. The Legions that pulled Rome from basically certain destruction in the 3rd Century were, by and large, drawn from and led by people that only a century earlier had been considered unreconstructed barbarians.

Again LVCAN MAG does not have an editorial focus on any historical time periods in particular or on history in general. The point I’m trying to make is that the people who have drafted The Enlightenment and the Romans into their rhetoric aren’t just intellectual randos — they are in fact almost exact intellectual antagonists to the values that defined The Enlightenment and The Roman state. Now, in spite of the egregiousness of this, our reclamation of these time periods will still largely be passive in character. We are a boutique magazine willing to publish noncommercial writing in basically any genre; we have a distinctive aesthetic that evokes classical and neoclassical Western culture, and its hoped that by associating that aesthetic with good writing in general it will be pried from the pudgy grasps of accounts like this.

Oh? And so are you implying that writing that opposes your viewpoint is a priori bad? What if its good writing that supports the conservative views of the people you’ve been attacking here? Just going to turn it out of hand? So much for the tolerant le —

People tend to believe their beliefs are correct. That’s why they hold those beliefs. I actually don’t know how you can be said to genuinely hold a belief while at the same time not believing its correct. Anyway this is to say that its not a betrayal of intellectual honesty to believe as a default that views opposite from my own are wrong. That’s how views work. But this also is not to say that submissions that come to the same conclusions as the people who annoy me will be dismissed outright. If someone sends in an essay sounding the alarm about, say, woke cancel mobs on Twitter — and if the submission is an actually well-crafted or original analysis of the issue — and if it doesn’t lie about anything — then it will be published. And at the same time I will probably draft a response to it, explaining how I think the facts the author rightfully pointed out actually don’t quite support the conclusion they make, etc.

Now, while our reclamation of these signs, images, symbols, etc. is going to be passive on the whole, that doesn’t preclude more direct action. Indeed we encourage the writing of polemics here, at LVCAN MAG. We are Writing For Victory here, at LVCAN MAG. You can see my own contributions to this section of the publication. This is the most specific, well-delineated service I can see LVCAN MAG providing: a consistent stream of refreshing, reasonable, and insightful refutations of bad arguments for complacency in the face of an increasingly unjust and untenable world. I would like LVCAN MAG be home to many things, but more than anything I want it to be home pieces that you can link a purposefully obtuse internet opponent to and say “Unless you have some substantial response to this then my point stands.”

Read the Call for Submissions to find out how to you can contribute to this work.

[1] “Criticizing blatant racism is all well and good, but these radical claims that society and government are structured so as to maintain racism? This is The Left trying to hew at the very foundations of our civilization! Mere anarchy!” “Criticizing blatant corruption in the Church is all well and good, but these radical claims that the Church should be kept out of the government itself? This is the philosophes trying to hew at the very foundations of our civilization! Mere anarchy!”

[2] Believe me when I say this is not a mean mischaracterization for the sake of polemics. Steven Pinker, the arch-appropriator of the philosophe’s work and spirit, writes at the beginning of his most recent book that “The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious, trite, old-fashioned. I wrote this book because I have come to realize that it is not.” Reader, I am here to assure you that it is obvious, trite, and old-fashioned.

[3] What about religious thinkers? Don’t Christians think that faith is the most central thing to human — Christianity is a religion like you mentioned; it’s not a school of philosophy like German Idealism or Aristotelianism are schools of philosophy.

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E. P. Murphy

E. P. Murphy

University at Buffalo '18 | Psychology B.A. | Infrequent essayist