November 29, 2007 § Leave a comment
A language for the world
Nobel economist Sen sees no “clash of civilizations” in an increasingly polarized world, rather, he searches for common threads that unite seemingly divided cultures and laments that “the rhetoric of a clash of civilizations is not only mistaken, but it is doing an enormous amount of harm”.
The problem is, when people feel threatened economically they look for what to align themselves with that offers security (and meaning). Religion, nationalism, “economic man” are some of those points of alignment. The clash of civilizations describes the result of this alignment and the underlying anxiety that causes it.
Cass Sunstein uses a book as an opportunity to go into the legal issues now before the Supreme Curt, on gun ownership. This article is worth mediation because it raises fundamental issues about person, society, historical change, culture..
Out of Range The Most Mysterious Right
By Mark V. Tushnet
(Oxford University Press, 156 pp., $19.95)
In 1991, Warren E. Burger, the conservative chief justice of the Supreme Court, was interviewed on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour about the meaning of the Second Amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms.” Burger answered that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud– I repeat the word ‘fraud’–on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” In a speech in 1992, Burger declared that “the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to have firearms at all. ” In his view, the purpose of the Second Amendment was “to ensure that the ‘state armies’–‘the militia’–would be maintained for the defense of the state. ”
It is impossible to understand the current Second Amendment debate without lingering over Burger’s words. Burger was a cautious person as well as a conservative judge, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court is unlikely to offer a controversial position on a constitutional question in an interview on national television. (Chief Justice John Roberts is not about to go on Fox News to say that the claimed right to same-sex marriage is a fraud on the American people perpetrated by special interest groups.) Should we therefore conclude that Burger had a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness? I do not think so. Burger meant to describe what he saw as a clear consensus within the culture of informed lawyers and judges–a conclusion that was so widely taken for granted that it seemed to him to be a fact, and not an opinion at all.
It only gets more intriguing an helpful from here.
Mo Tze, from
Exaltation of the Virtuous I:
Mozi said: Now, all the rulers desire their provinces to be wealthy, their people to be numerous, and their jurisdiction to secure order. But what they obtain is not wealth but poverty, not multitude but scarcity, not order but chaos – this is to lose what they desire and obtain what they avert. Why is this?
Exaltation of the Virtuous I:
Mozi said: This is because the rulers have failed to exalt the virtuous and to employ the capable in their government. When the virtuous are numerous in the state, order will be stable; when the virtuous are scarce, order will be unstable. Therefore the task of the lords lies nowhere but in multiplying the virtuous.
Winik vividly portrays the tumultuous times in which America embarked on the great experiment, testing whether a continent-size country could successfully establish representative government. (Montesquieu, for one, had thought republics only suitable to city-states.)
The hint is that the leap the founders made has little theoretical underpinning and yet we now all live on this ship of state. Our the current difficulties, such as the loss of sovereignty to the corporations, reflective of weaknesses in that understanding of politics of scale?
Peter Gay is an historian I have read always with anticipation, staring with his books on the enlightenment then Freud, then the Victorians. But I never could get past the sense that it was a collection of notes. But important ones whose message was obscure. So I am interested in this Interview Q&A with Peter Gay – The Boston Globe The interviewer is James Hamilton.
Gay’s new 600-page tome, “Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond,” is the fifth book to come out of his very active retirement, and his 25th book overall. Though it covers the revolution in creative thinking that flourished between 1890 and 1930, it doesn’t attempt to be a comprehensive survey. Nor does it press down and address questions one might expect to vex an intellectual historian: Can the shock of the new persist in this postmodern age?
… GAY: Well, Wallace Stevens scared the hell out of me. I thought to myself: What would I do with him? Eliot, however, I could do something with, even if anti-Semites are not my favorite people.
GAY: You could write a book about modernism and start half a century earlier. I thought about starting with the Romantics. I used to teach all that stuff, and I certainly got very interested in them again – they’re very complicated – but though they might have rebelled against morality, they didn’t exactly rebel.
So I said no, what I want is someone who really says the hell with it all. And Baudelaire says never mind the dignity of literature – I’m going to write about my mistress. The court thought it was obscene. And of course Flaubert was doing the same thing. So I thought these guys would be good to start with.
It doesn’t go much further. The book mught be quite good.
In the 17th century, Lilla argues, “a Great Separation took place, severing Western political philosophy decisively from cosmology and theology. It remains the most distinctive feature of the modern West to this day.” Lilla applauds this Great Separation, precisely because it removed what he calls “political theology”—defined as “discourse about political authority based on a revealed divine nexus”—from the discussion of human governance.
Another book, reviewed in Refighting the Wars of Religion
The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea, by the French historian of ideas Rémi Brague.3
As he put it in his Times Magazine article:
Hobbes planted a seed, a thought that it might be possible to build legitimate political institutions without grounding them on divine revelation. He knew it was impossible to refute belief in divine revelation; the most one can hope for is to cast suspicion on prophets claiming to speak about politics in God’s name. This new political thinking would no longer concern itself with God’s politics; it would concentrate on men as believers in God and try to keep them from harming one another. It would set its sights lower than Christian political theology had, but secure what mattered most, which was peace.
This is the Voegelin antithesis.
If Hobbes thus created modern political philosophy, it was John Locke (1632-1704) who, Lilla argues, in effect “humanized” and sold this new product. Locke agreed with Hobbes on the necessity of changing the subject of politics from God to man. But he had a less dyspeptic view of the human condition, and he did not much like the idea of tyranny. So, Lilla writes, he
began to imagine a new kind of political order in which power would be limited, divided, and widely shared; in which those in power at one moment would relinquish it peacefully at another, without fear of retribution; in which public law would govern relations among citizens and institutions; in which many different religions would be allowed to flourish, free from state interference; and in which individuals would have inalienable rights to protect them from government and their fellows.
This “liberal-democratic order,” Lilla continues, is “the only one we in the West recognize as legitimate today.” And thus we in the West are the political heirs of the “good” Hobbes: the Hobbes who, by demolishing “the Christian conception of man” and by completing “the most devastating attack on Christian political theology ever undertaken,” enabled post-Hobbesian moderns to “escape” from their intellectually barren, socially disruptive, and ultimately lethal theological patrimony. With help from the kinder, gentler John Locke, Hobbes made possible democracy, the rule of law, the constitutional defense of human rights, and religious freedom.
By my reading of Locke, he is more religious, in the sense of “of course god” but then draws no conclusions. The key point is how important this history is, and how still contested.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) intervened to set in motion what became a nasty intellectual mess. Rousseau shared Hobbes’s caustic criticism of clerical ignorance and theocratic authoritarianism; but, Lilla notes, he was also a “friend of religion.” And thus, rather than bracketing the human religious impulse when the subject turned to public life and politics, he insisted, in his romantic way, on honoring it. Even more consequentially, Rousseau identified this seemingly ineradicable impulse with an “inner light” that shapes our moral intuitions, including our moral intuitions about society, our obligations to others, our philanthropy, and indeed every other aspect of our lives as citizens.
Mst people I know beleive in some vague sense of the Russeau view, inner light, transcendence. but it stops there, leaving open democracy still attractive.
Meanwhile, as the Savoyard vicar puts it in Rousseau’s Emile (a novel that Lilla explicates at some length): “I believe all particular religions are good when one serves God usefully in them.”
Sorry to quote so much, but it is good.
Both Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) followed Rousseau rather than Hobbes. The former, while attempting to salvage universal and rationally defensible principles of morality by appeals to a “categorical imperative,” also argued for a kind of universalized Protestantism as the apex of human religious development. The latter took an even more dangerous turn by promoting religious conviction as the vital core of any authentic Volksgeist (national spirit or “idea”). Where that could lead was demonstrated when the liberal Protestant theology of the 19th-century German academy so thoroughly identified itself with the Wilhelmine Volksgeist that it vigorously defended German aggression in World War I and, almost until the very end, the slaughter in the trenches: a civilizational catastrophe far worse than, if weirdly reminiscent of, the earlier wars of religion.
Nor was that the end of it, as Lilla does not fail to point out. The liberal Protestant cave-in to Prussian militarism and German nationalism in turn triggered a messianic or apocalyptic reaction among religious thinkers in the interwar period—a period deeply marked, Lilla reminds us, by a thoroughgoing disgust with modernity and a new quest for authenticity among many European intellectuals. Some, like the Jewish thinkers Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, and the Christian theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pulled up on the reins before they came to the political brink. But others soon found a vessel for their fantasies in the man whom Winston Churchill once described as “a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast—Corporal Hitler.”
This whole sorry history, Lilla concludes, “served to confirm Hobbes’s iron law: messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics.” The Great Separation, to which we owe our very lives as the beneficiaries of liberal democracy, can never be taken for granted; and neither can the liberal-democratic order itself. Lilla formulates the task before us in terms different from those proposed by the new atheists but tacitly in tune with their agenda:
Rousseau was on to something: we seem to be theotropic creatures, yearning to connect our mundane lives, in some way, to the beyond. That urge can be suppressed, new habits learned, but the challenge of political theology will never fully disappear as long as the urge to connect survives.
So we are heirs to the Great Separation only if we wish to be, if we make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. . . . This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness. We must never forget that there was nothing inevitable about our Great Separation, that it was and remains an experiment.
Difficult. Can we be a democrat and believe in some form of transcendentalism?
In The Law of God, Rémi Brague, a scholar of Plato, Aristotle, and medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophy who divides his time between the Sorbonne and the University of Munich, agrees with Lilla to this extent: contemporary thinking on religion and politics is “dominated” by “one of the grand narratives in which modernity tries to explain itself: an escape of the political from the domain of theology.” This master narrative, in turn, contains several sub-plots: “the secularization of a world supposed to have been ‘enchanted’; the laicization of a supposedly clerical society; the separation of church and state, supposed to have been originally one.”……“theoi-political” problem: the problem of the intersection of the divine, however construed, with our ideas about the right ordering of society. That problem is an enduring feature of the human condition, and one that has been extensively addressed by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam over the past three millennia or more.
In his discussion of the High Middle Ages, Brague adduces both important Jewish thinkers (Yehuda Halevi and Maimonides) and a Christian approach to the religion-and-politics question stressing that law, even divine law, must be both rational and intelligible.
The political and the religious are two independent sources of authority; they have crossed one another’s paths more than once, but they never have merged in spite of efforts to fit them together, sometimes to the advantage of one, sometimes to that of the other. Although there has been cooperation between the two, there has never been confusion about which is which.
Brague’s important book
By widening the historical lens, Brague also reminds us that the Western accomplishment of distinguishing in both theory and practice between religious authority and political authority, sacerdotium and regnum, was in fact a Christian accomplishment, which in turn drew on ancient Jewish convictions about the dangers inherent in the idolatry of the political. Without question, both the European wars of religion and the Enlightenment played crucial roles in creating the modern political forms by which we acknowledge the distinction between religious and political authority. But the arguments for such a distinction had been made long before, and in explicitly theological terms, by Augustine, Aquinas, and many others standing in the biblical tradition.4
The overwhelming majority of Americans accept the truly great separation—not the separation of religion and public life but the separation of religious authority and political authority—because they believe themselves religiously obliged to do so, and because enough remains of the old natural-law grammar and vocabulary for us to conduct the debate over the “oughts” of public life in a genuinely ecumenical and interreligious fashion, rather than by playing denominational trump cards or by claiming direct guidance from divine revelation.
Mark Lilla wants his Hobbes without the English philosopher’s dark view of man. Rémi Brague, I suspect, knows that there is no such thing as Hobbes Lite, and that so thoroughly grim a view of the human condition runs the very real risk of underwriting an ignoble and ultimately vicious politics. There is a sense, then, in which the debate over religion and politics is a tale of two Thomases, Hobbes and Aquinas, with their deeply divergent views of human nature and the human prospect, and thus of politics and its pitfalls and its possibilities. One cannot imagine a more consequential debate for the future of democratic freedom in America, throughout the West, or in the intellectual and cultural struggle between the West and its enemies.
Yes, reluctantly, I agree.
November 27, 2007 § Leave a comment
Interesting art on emotions. Strozzi
Reading Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man. Good background on art and work.The Soul of Man under Socialism by Oscar Wilde – Project Gutenberg
November 26, 2007 § Leave a comment
Brezezinski’s views in The Grand Chessboard ends with
“In the course of the next several decades, a functioning structure of global cooperation, based on geopolitical realities, could thus emerge and gradually assume the mantle of the world’s current “regent,” which has for the time being assumed the burden of responsibility for world stability and peace. Geostrategic success in that cause would represent a fitting legacy of America’s role as the first, only, and last truly global superpower.” – 215
So it begins. After years of obfuscation and denial on the length of the U.S.’s stay in Iraq, the White House and the Maliki government have released a joint declaration of “principles” for “friendship and cooperation.” Apparently President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed the declaration during a morning teleconference.
War Czar: Permanent Iraq Bases Won’t Require Senate Ratification
By Spencer Ackerman – November 26, 2007, 12:54PM
Q General, will the White House seek any congressional input on this?
GENERAL LUTE: In the course of negotiations like this, it’s not — it is typical that there will be a dialogue between congressional leaders at the negotiating table, which will be run out of the Department of State. We don’t anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress.
Q Is the purpose of avoiding the treaty avoiding congressional input?
GENERAL LUTE: No, as I said, we have about a hundred agreements similar to the one envisioned for the U.S. and Iraq already in place, and the vast majority of those are below the level of a treaty.
Lute said the White House intends to conclude negotiations on an enduring security guarantee with the Maliki government in July. Permanent military bases and residual troop levels will be specified in the final accord, he said.
The Bush administration is moving towards “we won in Iraq DESPITE the democrat opposition,” and they will declare that the economy is doing fine. The Dems, who have taken a fairly low profile (exept on some issues Edwards and on most issues, Kucenich (sp)) will have a hard time countering this.
Call for prison reform draws attention from policy makers and members of the law enforcement community
U.S. Prison system a costly and harmful failure
California a leader in number of youths in prison for life
Crack cocaine sentence cut is stalled by retroactivity
NPR: Should Sentencing Reform Be Retroactive? [Real Player]
Unlocking America [pdf]
Bureau of Justice Statistics [pdf]
Within the vast world of pressing policy problems, system-wide prison reform in the United States has been a subject that has vexed even the most dedicated experts and committed activists. Over the past four decades, the prison population has risen eight-fold, and people have laid the blame on everything from mandatory sentencing laws to economic restructuring in America’s manufacturing regions. This week, the JFA Institute released a report which contains a number of thoughtful policy recommendations which have generated comments from criminologists, politicians, and judges. Some of these findings may prove to be controversial, as they include recommendations for shorter sentences, and alternative punishments. The long-term effects of the current sentencing guidelines may have a deleterious effect on certain communities, as the report notes: “The massive incarceration of young male from mostly poor-and working-class neighborhoods, and the taking of women from their families and jobs, has crippled their potential for forming healthy families and achieving economic gains.” [KMG]
and Clinton and Perot
By David Sirota
Creators Syndicate, 11/23/07
Ross Perot was fiercely against NAFTA. Knowing what we know now, was Ross Perot right?”
That’s what CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Hillary Clinton at last week’s Democratic presidential debate. It was a straightforward query about a Clinton administration trade policy that polls show the public now hates, and it was appropriately directed to a candidate who has previously praised NAFTA.
In response, Clinton stumbled. First she laughed at Perot, then she joked that “all I can remember from that is a bunch of charts,” and then she claimed the whole NAFTA debate “is a vague memory.” The behavior showed how politically tone deaf some Democratic leaders are.
To read the full column, go to:
November 23, 2007 § Leave a comment
Resurrecting the Star Chamber No Comment (Harper’s Magazine)
November 22, 2007 § Leave a comment
From Comment is free The age of Schlesinger Sid Blumenthal on ..Good background.
Schlesinger lived many lives, in academia, in politics and in cafe society. Of course, he was among the greatest historians of his generation, continuing the tradition of his distinguished father, the originator of the cycles of American politics, and his reputed ancestor, George Bancroft, the 19th-century historian and political intimate of Democratic presidents. Schlesinger was also a speechwriter and advisor to Democratic politicians and presidents, serving famously in the Kennedy White House. Before he went to work with John F Kennedy, he had already published his magisterial histories, The Age of Jackson and the three volumes of The Age of Roosevelt.
November 21, 2007 § Leave a comment
On the economy and corporations
The problem with “democracy” as a marker of markets is that we barely have any democracies except media based ones of manufactured candidates and issues. Which is too bad because I think the democracy and markets are similar in that it’s free choices in production and consumption. These do not pertain in the corporate dominated ” market” reality because the larger corporations struggle so hard to control the market. Shootouts like between Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are rare, and these industries are so dependent on regulation and arcane legal arrangements that they hardly look like free market activities.
Going back to john Kenneth Galbraith the view has been that basically the large corporations do the major wholesale and allow the risk in retail to be borne by smaller companies. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. It is also true the small companies suffer from the bad reputations of the big ones. If we had tough environmental regulation that drove technical innovation at the regional and local level we would be better off. But the domination of the local level of big energy, big banks, big transportation, big telecom, and, let’s face it, the amount of local manufacturing that is military specific, all go together to make local communities feel impotent in the face of larger economic forces.
Distributing profits does not assume that it can generate a higher return then the company. That logic assumes the higher return is the primary thing we all should be concerned with. It’s clear that a company can have a higher return by refusing to internalize real costs, such as energy, and internalizing community property, such as carbon rights. Why should a corporation that pollutes be able to sell carbon rights when I don’t have the same privilege? Companies should not be the privileged operators in society
Changing the wages of CEOs does in fact affect everybody else. First, the money comes from somewhere. In this economy those higher wages have ended up in the form of far and held debt, and who do you suspect will pay that back? Second the CEO can live in ways that make life harder for everybody else, for example taking large pieces of land for their home close to work pushes everybody else to longer commutes. The wages of free labor are not based on the market for labor, because the market is controlled. We prevent immigration to higher wages and we prevent workers from organizing. We don’t prevent capital from organizing, why should we prevent anybody else?
The proposal of limiting the size is attractive and interesting but we would have to work out the logic of the consequences. It might be the things that should be large like computer operating systems, should operate more like trusts than like corporations. The world might be better off if we had cheaper computers and much smaller operating systems and much simpler software, at least as an option, but the logic of the market leads to a ratcheting up of computer complexity and software complexity so that the price of the computer remains high. There is a lot of detail here in the modeling and I don’t see anyone yet who’s really doing it.
Milton Friedman’s complaint against monopolies goes back to Adam Smith as restraints on markets, but the reality is that monopolies or quasi monopolies dominate the entire market. At least 50% of it, and the percentage is worse in poor countries. The argument from Hayek was that governments fail because they can’t plan properly ’cause they’re too big and a market does a better job. But in fact a small number of corporations are larger than most countries and are dominated by intense planning and control. Hayek never considers this problem. If planning is bad for states why isn’t it bad for corporations?
Healthy competition? Is the Microsoft Google Amazon an example of healthy competition? The aim of all three aims to gain a monopoly position and somebody will win. We call it rationalizing the market. But rational here just means span of control.
I agree with Kip that these issues are ages old. As are empires. And wars. The problem is that the cost in a world of seven billion people is very high because miscalculations have much wider effects. The point is, it is time to change, and that means questioning deep taboos and old assumptions. My fundamental starting point is we need to change the corporations because the way they integrate money and technology and power not only marginalizes too many but steals from them: water, the genetics of food, land use, with low wages and high pollution. The corporate control of governments through money is a key part of this dynamic.
John, I like your comments about no one size fits all. Could you give some examples of what size limitations might look like and for whom?
Carlos’s example can hardly be held as a model for many. There is no family. No dependents. No security. No ability to travel, and probably few health benefits. To call this middle class is to sow confusion. I presume his argument is, “hey the economy works better than we think”. I think his choice of the example is insincere.
I don’t think regional economic differences are quite at large. A factor of two in housing costs covers the great bulk of the country. Food costs vary by perhaps forty percent, but recent travels suggest much less (has anyone noticed how much lower food prices seem to be now in Europe?). Energy, transportation, education and clothes are fairly similar. Part of this is the general homogenizing of the world, and a solid middle class lifestyle is remarkably similar in cost in most of the cities of the world with very few exceptions. Again we are talking about a factor of two or less. It is complicated because in many poor countries the middle class can either servants.
The auto companies undermining mass transit is an example of corporations acting for monopoly control, not playing the honest and the markets.
Since the issue of corporate size has come up again perhaps it is worth focusing on. I consider it an alternative to changing corporate charters but it might come down to the same thing. I’d love further thoughts about this.
I hope it is clear that I am not opposed to corporations, creativity, technology entrepreneurialism, growing economies and a general enthusiasm about the future. I am opposed to environmental degradation, the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the world, the buying of governments, and using the military economy to prime capital markets. Reconciling these two sets of values seems to me to capture the territory where most of us actually are. The question is how to do it.
November 18, 2007 § Leave a comment
China as a capitalist authoritarian nation is worth considering as the alternative model to the US slightly more loose economic arrangements. But real alternatives probaably exist in quieter places, like south America and south Asia. A very interesting aricle is The China Model — from The American, A Magazine of Ideas
China’s soft power offensive and the lure of the China Model remain, however, entirely official government programs. Where soft power has worked durably and has permeated connections among nations and nationalities, it has also involved civil society and the media, the arts, cultural attraction—the broad range of informal human contacts. Beijing will not let such areas of life off the leash at home, let alone license them for export. Thus, its charm in the developing world remains that of the official with his jacket still on, the limousine with darkened windows waiting outside—fully paid for—and the critics regularly, clinically rounded up and removed beyond earshot.
But many Americans in the business community are drawn to the Chinese model because of the control. How will this play out in the next presidency?