Modern Scholar series (part IV)

Being “between courses” has afforded me the opportunity to dip back into Recorded Books’ Modern Scholar series of lectures on audio CD. I started listening to these a couple years ago, finding the entries by Thomas Madden to be especially worthwhile listening. Aside from Madden’s, I have to admit that I’ve found the rest of the series hit or miss, but I wanted to give a shout-out to Professor Fred E. Baumann for his entry, Visions of Utopia: Philosophy and the Perfect Society.

This might come across as a backhanded compliment, but I was impressed by the seriousness with which Baumann treated religion in this set of lectures. Not that the lectures focused on religion – religion played a small role – but he understands the importance of religion in the fabric of both intellectual and common history, and did not just simply dismiss it as irrelevant, or regard it derisively, as most modern intellectuals seem to. Not only was that refreshing, but it added a layer of realism and intellectual heft to the discussion that seems sorely lacking so often.

The lectures cover Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Rousseau’s Social Contract, the Jacobin implementation of Rousseau’s thought, Marx’s programmatic update of Rousseau, and Skinner’s Walden Two, concluding with some reflections on the continuing relevance of utopian thought, particularly in the bizarre but socially intoxicating supra-eugenicism of the movement at the edge of “progressivism” that calls itself transhumanism.

Baumann is not a strictly conventional thinker on these matters, and I take issue with some of his opinions – especially in the way he reads Rousseau, which seems to me to unjustifiably take him off the hook for the monster he created – but I highly recommend this set of lectures as a thoughtful and engaging exposition on what only a fool would still consider a fringe aspect of political science.