by Gene Callahan
I’ve been reading the anthropologist Clifford Geertz‘s book, The Interpretation of Cultures, this week. I had read a little Geertz when doing my master’s at LSE, and liked him then, and I like him even more now. For instance, Hayek, Oakeshott, Polanyi, Wittgenstein, MacIntyre and others have all noted how the Enlightenment goal of freeing reason from all allegiance to traditions, customs, habits and so on is not an ideal we should approach as closely as possible but an impossibility, and an impossibility that, if held as a goal, only creates mischief. Here is Geertz making much the same point:
‘Undirected by culture patterns — organized systems of significant symbols — man’s behavior would be virtually ungovernable, a mere chaos of pointless acts and exploding emotions, his experience virtually shapeless’ (46).