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Lenin and the Ontological Dependence of Society Jun. 17th, 2011 @ 02:09 pm
Lenin and the Ontological Dependence of Society

A note on the title of this post: and some amendments to Lenin:

I might as well have titled this post "Lenin and the Ontological Independence of Society". In good Hegelian fashion, which always brings in an amount of philosophical fudging, the two notions (ontological standing - dependence / independence) amount to two sides of the same coin.

I would like to amend this passage from Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in a way more congenial to my philosophical thinking. Human societies obviously cannot exist without what we call human consciousness but they are independent of any single individual human consciousness. All talk of "objectivity" and "subjectivity" (in fact the whole of the subject'-object dichotomy) I believe only leads to confusion or worse a kind of dualism,. This is because even mind-dependent reality is in some sense "objective", i.e. a "material" reality. What is "in the mind" is somewhere a reality even if it is only a "part" of a nervous system. The fact is we as yet don't know what it means to say that something is "in consciousness" or that a thought is "in" the mind or the brain. Such words are merely metaphors or place-holders for what may possibly be discovered at a later date. Thus it is necessary to write about such topics constantly using "scare-quotes" as pointers to the words that are used metaphorically or concepts that are at bottom "black-boxes."

This is also true of what some philosophers still insist on calling "being". Being-itself, and the philosophical uses of it, I believe are simply rusty growths of our language and from this rust come all the permutations of ontological talk. I would simply prefer to talk about some form of reality or "material reality" or even the "processes" of mind-independent reality, as long as we realize that then we have the problem of the ontological-standing of "material reality" and "process" and that the notions of "matter" and "process" are themselves another way to fudge with metaphors. For instance, information is itself a material reality or material process in the world view of a good monist-materialist. The universe itself may, (as the physicist Wheeler once wrote) "at a very deep bottom" consist of nothing but bits of information. These bits of information are just the universe itself. The universe is not "mind-dependent", of course. The information that makes up the universe pre-exists consciousness which eventually arises through biological evolution.

This is not true of the societies of any species. So I would amend or perhaps only clarify Lenin in the following way: instead of saying "social being is independent of the social consciousness of men" I would say "social reality is independent of the social consciousness of each individual human." I would further add that each individual human is the "information" carrier of the always emergent material relations of social reality. The notion of "emergence" I would substitute for the metaphor of "chains" used by Lenin, when he writes of a "chain of events and "chain of development." The metaphor of a "chain" is too serial, in my view..

The simple point that Lenin is generally making below should be "common sense". The fact that it is not common sense, only says something about the clouds of unreality that constantly obscure our view, i.e. the ideology of our society, which in the epitome allows the irrational belief of a Margaret Thatcher who once famously said that there was no such thing as society.

Now to the quote:

"Every individual producer in the world economic system realizes that he is introducing a certain change into the technique of production; every owner realizes that he exchanges certain products for others; but these producers do not realize that in doing so they are thereby changing social being. The sum-total of these changes in all their ramifications in the capitalist world economy could not be grasped by seventy Marxes. The paramount thing is that the laws of these changes have been discovered, that the objective logic of these changes and their historical development have at bottom and in the main been disclosed -- objective, not in the sense that a society of conscious beings, men, could exist and develop independently of the existence of conscious beings ... but in the sense that social being is independent of the social consciousness of men. The fact that you live and conduct business, beget children, produce products and exchange them, gives rise to an objectively necessary chain of events, chain of development, which is independent of your social consciousness, and is never grasped by the latter completely. The highest task of humanity is to comprehend this objective logic of economic evolution (the evolution of social life) in general and fundamental features, so that it may be possible to adapt to it one's social consciousness and the consciousness of the advanced classes of all capitalist countries in as definite, clear and critical a fashion as possible."
music: WQXR

From Notes on "Capitalism Triumphant" Apr. 23rd, 2011 @ 03:30 pm
Too little attention is paid to the current economic conditions in the former Stalinist countries in comparison to the conditions before the triumph of capitalism. If we really want to learn what capitalism does and what Stalinism did historical comparisons would be news. Actually existing capitalism is not the fairy tale told by the idiots of the ruling class ideologists.

"Budapest and the western parts of the country are doing reasonably well, despite the general economic crisis, in the east, and especially in the northeast of the country, half a million Roma and at least he same number of non-Roma Hungarians live in extreme poverty. Many go hungry. What under Communist Janos Kadar had been a region of fairly successful collective farms and a wasteful, but labor intensive industry now consists of fallow lands and idle, rusty, factories. Among the previously fully employed Roma there is now up to 90 percent unemployment. Hungarians in the same region are no better off either. Whence the considerable hatred of the Roma who are said to prefer to live on welfare."

from "Hungary the Threat" by Istvan Deak The New York Review of Books, 28 April 2011, p. 37.

In fact throughout Eastern Europe the Roma fared better under the old Stalinist system of oppression than they do under the current system of capitalist oppression. This is because the distorted property forms of a deformed worker's state militated toward full employment and the full use and misuse of all labor resources no matter the backward political forms that destroyed any move toward proletarian democratic forms.

Jerry Monaco
23 April 2011
music: Alabama Song

South End Press | New Releases Jun. 14th, 2009 @ 11:03 am
South End Press is still the best publisher for radicals. (via shareaholic)

The Difference Between FDR and Obama = FDR Madison Square Garden Speech 1936 Apr. 22nd, 2009 @ 01:21 pm
This is a link to a recording and transcript of Franklin Roosevelt's1936 campaign speech where he says of the rich and powerful "They are unanimous in their hatred of me and I welcome their hatred." The difference between an Obama and a Roosevelt can be seen clearly. Obama wants to be liked by everyone, even the rulers and the rich. Roosevelt knew the rich would hate him if he tried to do anything to change the rules of the game. Roosevelt saved capitalism in spite of the capitalists who opposed him. But he knew the ruling class from the inside and knew that to do something decent he would provoke the hated of the rich, even if his actions were ultimately to the benefit of the system from which the rich benefit. It takes a person who knew the ruling class intimately to oppose them in this way. Obama on the other hand is needful of the respect of the rulers and will never welcome the hatred of the rich, even though this is exactly what a reformer needs to do in order to win reforms.

Below the cut find the text of the speech.

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FDR campaigning in 1936
</td> </tr> </tbody></table> President Franklin D. Roosevelt

October 31, 1936

Madison Square Garden Speech

Senator Wagner, Governor Lehman, ladies and gentlemen:

On the eve of a national election, it is well for us to stop for a moment and analyze calmly and without prejudice the effect on our Nation of a victory by either of the major political parties.

The problem of the electorate is far deeper, far more vital than the continuance in the Presidency of any individual. For the greater issue goes beyond units of humanity‹it goes to humanity itself.

In 1932 the issue was the restoration of American democracy; and the American people were in a mood to win. They did win. In 1936 the issue is the preservation of their victory. Again they are in a mood to win. Again they will win.

More than four years ago in accepting the Democratic nomination in Chicago, I said: "Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people."

The banners of that crusade still fly in the van of a Nation that is on the march.

It is needless to repeat the details of the program which this Administration has been hammering out on the anvils of experience. No amount of misrepresentation or statistical contortion can conceal or blur or smear that record. Neither the attacks of unscrupulous enemies nor the exaggerations of over-zealous friends will serve to mislead the American people.

What was our hope in 1932? Above all other things the American people wanted peace. They wanted peace of mind instead of gnawing fear.

First, they sought escape from the personal terror which had stalked them for three years. They wanted the peace that comes from security in their homes: safety for their savings, permanence in their jobs, a fair profit from their enterprise.

Next, they wanted peace in the community, the peace that springs from the ability to meet the needs of community life: schools, playgrounds, parks, sanitation, highways‹those things which are expected of solvent local government. They sought escape from disintegration and bankruptcy in local and state affairs.

They also sought peace within the Nation: protection of their currency, fairer wages, the ending of long hours of toil, the abolition of child labor, the elimination of wild-cat speculation, the safety of their children from kidnappers.

And, finally, they sought peace with other Nations‹peace in a world of unrest. The Nation knows that I hate war, and I know that the Nation hates war.

I submit to you a record of peace; and on that record a well-founded expectation for future peace‹peace for the individual, peace for the community, peace for the Nation, and peace with the world.

Tonight I call the roll‹the roll of honor of those who stood with us in 1932 and still stand with us today.

Written on it are the names of millions who never had a chance‹men at starvation wages, women in sweatshops, children at looms.

Written on it are the names of those who despaired, young men and young women for whom opportunity had become a will-o'-the-wisp.

Written on it are the names of farmers whose acres yielded only bitterness, business men whose books were portents of disaster, home owners who were faced with eviction, frugal citizens whose savings were insecure.

Written there in large letters are the names of countless other Americans of all parties and all faiths, Americans who had eyes to see and hearts to understand, whose consciences were burdened because too many of their fellows were burdened, who looked on these things four years ago and said, "This can be changed. We will change it."

We still lead that army in 1936. They stood with us then because in 1932 they believed. They stand with us today because in 1936 they know. And with them stand millions of new recruits who have come to know.

Their hopes have become our record.

We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace‹business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me‹and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

The American people know from a four-year record that today there is only one entrance to the White House‹by the front door. Since March 4, 1933, there has been only one pass-key to the White House. I have carried that key in my pocket. It is there tonight. So long as I am President, it will remain in my pocket.

Those who used to have pass-keys are not happy. Some of them are desperate. Only desperate men with their backs to the wall would descend so far below the level of decent citizenship as to foster the current pay-envelope campaign against America's working people. Only reckless men, heedless of consequences, would risk the disruption of the hope for a new peace between worker and employer by returning to the tactics of the labor spy.

Here is an amazing paradox! The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.

Every message in a pay envelope, even if it is the truth, is a command to vote according to the will of the employer. But this propaganda is worse‹it is deceit.

They tell the worker his wage will be reduced by a contribution to some vague form of old-age insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar of premium he pays for that insurance, the employer pays another dollar. That omission is deceit.

They carefully conceal from him the fact that under the federal law, he receives another insurance policy to help him if he loses his job, and that the premium of that policy is paid 100 percent by the employer and not one cent by the worker. They do not tell him that the insurance policy that is bought for him is far more favorable to him than any policy that any private insurance company could afford to issue. That omission is deceit.

They imply to him that he pays all the cost of both forms of insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar put up by him his employer puts up three dollars three for one. And that omission is deceit.

But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.

The fraudulent nature of this attempt is well shown by the record of votes on the passage of the Social Security Act. In addition to an overwhelming majority of Democrats in both Houses, seventy-seven Republican Representatives voted for it and only eighteen against it and fifteen Republican Senators voted for it and only five against it. Where does this last-minute drive of the Republican leadership leave these Republican Representatives and Senators who helped enact this law?

I am sure the vast majority of law-abiding businessmen who are not parties to this propaganda fully appreciate the extent of the threat to honest business contained in this coercion.

I have expressed indignation at this form of campaigning and I am confident that the overwhelming majority of employers, workers and the general public share that indignation and will show it at the polls on Tuesday next.

Aside from this phase of it, I prefer to remember this campaign not as bitter but only as hard-fought. There should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America. No man can occupy the office of President without realizing that he is President of all the people.

It is because I have sought to think in terms of the whole Nation that I am confident that today, just as four years ago, the people want more than promises.

Our vision for the future contains more than promises.

This is our answer to those who, silent about their own plans, ask us to state our objectives.

Of course we will continue to seek to improve working conditions for the workers of America‹to reduce hours over-long, to increase wages that spell starvation, to end the labor of children, to wipe out sweatshops. Of course we will continue every effort to end monopoly in business, to support collective bargaining, to stop unfair competition, to abolish dishonorable trade practices. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will continue to work for cheaper electricity in the homes and on the farms of America, for better and cheaper transportation, for low interest rates, for sounder home financing, for better banking, for the regulation of security issues, for reciprocal trade among nations, for the wiping out of slums. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will continue our efforts in behalf of the farmers of America. With their continued cooperation we will do all in our power to end the piling up of huge surpluses which spelled ruinous prices for their crops. We will persist in successful action for better land use, for reforestation, for the conservation of water all the way from its source to the sea, for drought and flood control, for better marketing facilities for farm commodities, for a definite reduction of farm tenancy, for encouragement of farmer cooperatives, for crop insurance and a stable food supply. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole.

Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless‹that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief‹to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.

Again‹what of our objectives?

Of course we will continue our efforts for young men and women so that they may obtain an education and an opportunity to put it to use. Of course we will continue our help for the crippled, for the blind, for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security for the aged. Of course we will continue to protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation. We will continue our successful efforts to increase his purchasing power and to keep it constant.

For these things, too, and for a multitude of others like them, we have only just begun to fight.

All this‹all these objectives‹spell peace at home. All our actions, all our ideals, spell also peace with other nations.

Today there is war and rumor of war. We want none of it. But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people easier victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. You know well that those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign.

"Peace on earth, good will toward men"‹democracy must cling to that message. For it is my deep conviction that democracy cannot live without that true religion which gives a nation a sense of justice and of moral purpose. Above our political forums, above our market places stand the altars of our faith-altars on which burn the fires of devotion that maintain all that is best in us and all that is best in our Nation.

We have need of that devotion today. It is that which makes it possible for government to persuade those who are mentally prepared to fight each other to go on instead, to work for and to sacrifice for each other. That is why we need to say with the Prophet: "What doth the Lord require of thee‹but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God." That is why the recovery we seek, the recovery we are winning, is more than economic. In it are included justice and love and humility, not for ourselves as individuals alone, but for our Nation.

That is the road to peace. Text and mp3 from the Miller Center of Public Affairs Scripps Library Roosevelt Presidential Speeches

FDR and New Deal and Fireside Chats of Franklin Roosevelt Type your cut contents here.</div>
music: Manfred Symphony in B minor, Op. 58, I. Lento lugubre - Moderato con moto

A Reflection on the Philosophical Use of Movies Mar. 14th, 2009 @ 01:56 pm
From Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews - 2009-03-10
Dan Flory, Philosophy, Black Film, Film Noir, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008, 348pp., $65.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780271033440. Reviewed by Angela Curran, Carleton College

There is also a question as to whether this critical philosophical reflection is detachable from the viewer's experience of the film -- something she may or may not do -- or if Flory thinks that this reflection is part of every thoughtful viewer's experience of the film, properly understood. Is philosophical reflection something that the film or the viewer does, and is some special sort of philosophical background or knowledge of philosophical methods required for the viewer to philosophize? These are questions Flory briefly touches on, but does not examine in any detail.

Flory argues that black film noir philosophizes, "in just the ways that philosophers do" (175). There has been a great deal of fruitful debate recently on whether films can philosophize and if so, how. Flory, for the most part, seems to opt for the model of how films philosophize provided by Stanley Cavell and Stephen Mulhall. According to this view, films can philosophize because they can prompt viewers to "serious reflection" about fundamental questions of human existence, such as the nature of humanity. Other philosophers have argued that for film to philosophize, it must make use of some specific philosophical methods, such as counter-examples, thought-experiments or perhaps even arguments. Flory gives little attention to the specific philosophical methods that the films he discusses employ. Most often he just says that the film prompts "reflection" and a re-examination of beliefs (316) without considering the specific methods -- counter-examples, thought-experiments, and so on -- that each film uses. Some interesting differences might emerge between these films -- which all seem to become a bit alike in Flory's treatment of them -- if he had examined the different philosophical strategies that each film uses to imaginatively engage viewers in reflection on philosophical issues.

Flory's main argument -- that sympathizing or empathizing with marginalized black characters can prompt philosophizing on the nature of black humanity -- leads me to wonder about the role that emotional engagement with characters can play in prompting philosophical reflection. Flory argues that sympathy or empathy with characters in black film noir makes possible a kind of imaginative access to a new point of view outside the white viewer's experience. Is this method of prompting viewers to re-examine their everyday practices and the moral and epistemic norms that guide them comparable to the traditional methods contained in a philosophical work on race? Or is there something different about the way film prompts philosophizing precisely because it does this through emotional engagement rather than philosophical argumentation? These are interesting questions raised by Flory's treatment of black film<

Flory's book opens up many new lines of inquiry for philosophers interested in examining how films can philosophize and the role that the emotions play in prompting such reflection. Because of Flory's extensive knowledge of contemporary film aesthetics and critical race theory, there is much we can learn about these areas from reading his book. It is a work suitable for use in mid-level and advanced undergraduate classes as well as graduate classes on aesthetics, philosophy of film, and critical race theory.

The idea that film in general (or some films more than others) are inherently philosophical has always struck me as special pleading. At most films can be used for philosophical purposes, but beyond that they must be taken on their own aesthetic grounds. The same, of course, can be said for all artifacts of the human hand and imagination. So my question is "Why philosophy & film?" Why is there no movement for philosophy and poetry? There is plenty of writing about philosophy and poetry, but no special pleading and no academic movement?

Let's call those who encounter works of art through hearing, viewing, reading, etc. "auditors," avoiding, among other mistakes, the silly idea that movie watchers "read" the films they view.

Any strong work of art can prompt or spark "deep thought" and self-reflection in an auditor. But it is necessary for the auditor to be more than merely thoughtful. She also must be knowledgeable, both self-regarding and other regarding, and willing to work with herself in relation to the artifact she experiences. But more than the above the auditor must also be "open" -- receptive, playful, empathetic, wondering -- to the art-work she experiences.

All of the above are necessary. but not sufficient, conditions for a work of art to provoke philosophy. What further must be added to this mix is a desire to draw fundamental conclusions through reasoned thought and/or discussion, and to put the work of art to use as a means (or medium) of philosophical thought.

Is film special? Is film more effective than Greek or Elizabethan drama in provoking philosophical thought? True, for its own aesthetic reasons film is different than other media, but is it more particularly philosophical than say a Grecian urn or Keat's poem "Ode to a Grecian Urn". Didn't Keat's use the Grecian urn as a means of philosophical reflection in poetry? And is this any more unusual than using any other visual or popular art as a philosophical spark? Is it particularly easier or more inherent to the medium to use movies as a means or spark to philosophical work than "Anna Karenina" or "Bleak House" or "Lolita" or "Absalom, Absalom", to name four novels I believe give special access to philosophical wonderings and wanderings? One can argue whether Marcel Duchamp or Michaelangelo is better suited for philosophical prompting, but is sculpture less useful than painting, or painting less useful than moving pictures? I doubt it.

When such caveats and cut-outs begin to unravel these academic practices (because such "movements" as Philosophy & Film, Law & Literature, Art & Perception, etc., are practically exclusively practiced on university campuses) the whole project begins to seem constructed on the ground of academic politics or, perhaps, as a means of escape from the boredom of the major subject as constituted by the Department of Philosophy or the School of Law. There is nothing inherently dispositive in this but it causes me to wonder: If there were no academic departments would there be any need for these "movements," which are largely a rebellion against the artificial departmental separations of specialized philosophy, law, art, etc.?

And this brings me to other artificial separations that we assume before any of our inquiries begin. Take the separations of genre and the problems of authorship. For some reason, in the Philosophy & Film movement, genre films are more often used for philosophical reflection than other kinds of films. So the movement begins with work on Screwball comedies and film noir and on such auteur directors as Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. Why is this? I think this is because there are rules and boundaries that can be derived from these movies and directors and such rules and boundaries establish a baseline around which trends and outliers can define the nuances of "philosophical argument." Also the establishment of a genre to investigate or a director to operate upon with one's philosophizing, allows the philosopher to both talk about and avoid the philosophical issues of "sets" of genre and construction of authorship (and the hidden issues of ones own academic life that such "sets" and "constructions" displace). But more than that, I am not sure on the face of it why Hitchcock is so often written about by movie philosophers but Bugs Bunny and Warner Brother's cartoons are largely ignored, except by post-modern types.

Or to bring it another step: Why is there no movement around "Philosophy and Rock & Roll" or "Law and Rock & Roll". Potentially, Elvis Costello's albums "Armed Forces" and "This Year's Model" or Radiohead's "O.K. Computer" are as ripe for philosophical and legal riffing as Preston Sturges' "The Lady Eve" or Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." Elvis Costello and Radiohead are left to those academics who "do" popular culture (and again are often labeled pomo) mostly because the stodgy Departments of Philosophy and Schools of Law can only take so much of this kind of unserious rambling from the main purpose of their disciplines. Unfortunately, the pomo types who work on popular culture are more likely to "do" Madonna than Elvis Costello. From this point of view the special pleading for movies behind the "Philosophy & Film" movement and for literature by the "Law & Literature" movement is exclusive of other art forms and genres not because film is especially philosophical or novels and plays are especially legal, but because exclusivity increases the chances of being taken seriously. Radiohead's song "Paranoid Android" is not less philosophical than any particular scene from Terry Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys" and Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army" is not less legally profound than any particular passage from Bertolt Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera." But a philosopher or law professor is more likely to win the battle of academic recognition by conferring "high seriousness" upon "Twelve Monkeys" or "The Threepenny Opera" than on "O.K. Computer" or "Armed Forces". It is the battle over creditability that is foremost in the academic struggle and "seriousness" is necessary to insure survival in academic politics.

There is something amusing here. Why is there no Philosophy & Poetry movement? Because there is no need. Philosophy and poetry have been intertwined from the birth of philosophy as a separate social practice. This is partially because both poetry and philosophy find their roots in religion and myth. But no philosopher has to first argue that he is serious when he takes poetry seriously as a philosophical practice or a spark for philosophical reflection. The interpenetration of philosophy and poetry is either considered a blessing or a curse by philosophers, but no one has to start a movement to recognize that poetry can do philosophy and philosophers can reflect on poetry. It is only when confronting "modern" art genres, practices and media that a philosopher has to make special arguments over the seriousness of her philosophical reflections upon the resulting art works. Why is this? Because most of the modern art genres are either more popular or more democratic or both. And here is the one successful argument for the "Philosophy & Film" movement. Movies are a part of a broad shared culture and they provide a set of references easily recognizable by many. At the same time "film" as an art medium has been recognized by most intellectuals as a potentially serious endeavor.

What I would like the "Philosophy & Film" writers to do is recognize that there is nothing exclusive about their methods and that all art can be used as a spark for philosophy and all art media can be created for philosophical ends, especially if the philosopher-auditor has the wit and the wisdom. As for the rest, all the universe can be turned into poetry, if the poet has not only wit and but the wide writ of the imagination.
music: IOT: The Library at Alexandria
Other entries
» The Sociology of Berlusconi's Political Movement
Today Berlusconi is incontestably the icon of the Second Republic. His dominance symbolises everything it has come to stand for. Few secrets remain about the way in which he acquired his riches, and how he has used them to gain and preserve his power. The larger question is what, sociologically, made this career possible. An obvious answer would point to the unbroken sway of Christian Democracy in the First Republic, and see him essentially as its heir. The element of truth in such a reading is clear from the underlying electoral balance in the Second Republic. Proportionately, in all five elections since 1994, the total centre-right vote, excluding the League, has exceeded the total centre-left vote, excluding Rifondazione Comunista, by a margin varying between 5 and 10 per cent. Italy, in other words, has always been, and remains, at bottom an extremely conservative country. The reasons, it is widely argued, are not hard to seek. Fewer people move away from their areas of birth, more adult children live with their parents, average firms are much smaller, and the number of self-employed is far higher, than in any other Western society. Such are the cells of reaction out of which a body politic congenitally averse to risk or change has been composed. The sway of the Church, as the only institution at once national and universal, and the fear of a large home-grown Communism, clinched the hegemony of Christian Democracy over it, and even if each has declined, their residues live on in Berlusconi’s following.

The deduction is too linear, however. Berlusconi has certainly never stinted appeals to Christianity and family values, or warnings of the persistent menace of Communism, and Forza Italia certainly inherited the bastions of DC clientelism in the South – most notoriously in Sicily. But the filigrane of Catholic continuity in his success is quite tenuous. It is not only that the DC zones of the North-East have gone to the League, but practising Catholics – the quarter of the population that attends mass with some regularity – have been the most volatile segment of the electorate, many in the early years of the Second Republic voting not only for the League but also the PDS. Nor is there a clear-cut connection between small businesses or the self-employed and political reaction. The red belt of Central Italy – Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia-Romagna and the Marche – where the PCI was always strongest, and which the PD still holds today, is rife with both: family enterprises, flourishing micro-firms, independent artisans and shopkeepers, as well as the region’s co-operatives, a world not of large factories or assembly lines, but of small property.

Berlusconi’s real lineage is more pointed. Fundamentally, he is the heir of Craxi and the mutation he represented in the Italian politics of the 1980s, rather than of the DC. The descent is literal, not just analogical. The two men were close contemporaries, both products of Milan, their careers continuously intertwined from the time that Craxi became leader of the Socialist Party (PSI) in 1976, and Berlusconi set up his first major television station two years later, funded with lavish loans from banks controlled by the Socialist Party. The relationship could hardly have been more intimate, at once functional and personal. Craxi created the favours from the state that allowed Berlusconi to build his media empire: Berlusconi funded Craxi’s machine with the profits from it, and boosted his image with his newscasts. A frequent guest at Berlusconi’s palatial villa in Arcore, where he was liberally supplied with soubrettes and haute cuisine, in 1984 Craxi was godfather to Berlusconi’s first child by the actress Veronica Lario before he married her, and best man at the wedding when he did marry her in 1990. On becoming premier in 1983, he rescued Berlusconi’s national television networks, which were broadcasting in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, from being shut down, and in 1990 helped ensure Berlusconi’s permanent grip on them, with a law for which he received a deposit of $12 million to his account in a foreign bank. At the pinnacle of his power, Craxi cut a new figure on the postwar Italian scene – tough, decisive, cultivating publicity, in complete command of his own party, and a ruthless negotiator with others.

Three years later, with the revelations of Tangentopoli exposing the scale of his corruption, Craxi had become the most execrated public figure in the land. But he was not finished. His own career in ruins, he passed his vision of politics directly to Berlusconi, urging him to take the electoral plunge at a meeting in Milan in April 1993.

An Entire Order Converted into What It Was Intended to End
Perry Anderson

» The Crash of the Left in Italy
If the League has been the principal nemesis of that part – the majority – of the PCI which made a pilgrimage from Communism to social liberalism without so much as a stopover at social democracy, the fate of the minority that sought to refound a democratic Communism has been largely self-inflicted. Instead of keeping clear of Prodi’s coalition in the elections of 2006, as it had done to good effect in 1996 – when a pact of mutual desistance had allowed it to enter parliament as an independent force in rough proportion to its electoral strength, and lend external, but not unconditional, support to the ensuing centre-left government – Rifondazione Comunista signed up as a full member. Its leader, Fausto Bertinotti, was rewarded with the post of speaker of the Chamber, nominally the third personage of the Italian state after the president and prime minister, and replete with official perquisites of every kind and automatic access to the media. This empty honour went, as hoped, to his head, ensuring that the RC became a docile appendage in the ruling coalition, unable to secure any substantive concessions from it, and inevitably sharing in the disrepute into which it fell. In keeping with this performance, the party voted in favour of war credits for Afghanistan not long after Bertinotti had explained that the great mistake of the left in the 20th century had been to believe that violence could ever be an instrument of progressive change – only its complete renunciation for an ‘absolute pacifism’ was now politically acceptable. Predictably, the combination of co-option and abjuration was suicidal. Facing the polls in a last minute cartel with Greens and the remnant of the DS that could not abide the dropping of even a nominal reference to the left in the PD, Rifondazione was annihilated. Voters in their millions abandoned a party that had scuttled its own identity.

An Entire Order Converted into What It Was Intended to End
Perry Anderson

» The Piazza di Saint' Ignazio: A Theatrical Street-Scape

This is a view of the Piazza di Saint' Ignazio from the steps of Saint' Ignazio church. Filippo Raguzzini was the designer of the piazza and like so much in Rome there is a feeling that what the designer really had in mind was stage-craft and not street-scape or architecture. Modern architects could well learn that one craft is not separate from the other. The buildings at the time of Raguzzini were working class and craft-makers' apartments and not the usual aristocratic town palaces that one finds on such piazzas. But Raguzzini places the apartments around the square with a realization that the square is made for viewing people. The shapes of the building seem to be part of a moving set, each piece fitting into the next. The square when viewed from the steps of the church reveals five buildings and six streets which makes for eleven entrances and exits. One can already imagine the vast comic farce or opera with people pouring in and out of every entrance and always missing each other except at crucial times. If you ever have a chance to go to the Piazza di Sant'Ignazio stand on the church steps and imagine the windows opening, people shouting, men and women coming on stage from the doors and going off stage into the streets. A movie is ready for filming and the piazza is ready for its close-up.

The first time I stumbled onto this square it was at night and I wasn't looking for it. But as soon as I stepped onto the set of this piazza I knew that this was a place I had marked out in my mind to look at and imagine. There are places in our world, whether human artifact or natural, that must be filled with imagination in order to see them clearly. This is one of them. Think of the thousands of people who pass through this square without a second look. There are no spectacular fountains and no great palaces and the Church, that gives the piazza its name, looks like a bad imitation of the Gesu from the outside -- a neo classical Baroque at its most plain. (Inside the Saint' Ignazio bursts with the theatricality of Baroque art, especially Andrea Pozzo's ceiling fresco.) But lend your mind to this piazza which Raguzzini built as a homage to the complications and intersections of urban working class life and you begin to see what was once considered radical and dangerous about urban street-scapes.

It is Bloomsday and though Leopold Bloom never seems to have set foot in Rome I think that a walk through Rome with one of the great city-walkers in all fiction would have been a pleasure. He, surely, would have been able to enjoy the comedy of this theatrical street-scape.

Jerry Monaco

Jerry Monaco
16 June 2008
New York City

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» Bananas, Monoculture, Capitalism, Imperialism
The following is from the Scientific American podcast, "Science Talk," the episode from 23 April 2008 entitled "Can Science Save the Banana." The interviewer is Steve Mirsky, the regular host of "Science Talk". The person answering the questions is Dan Koeppel, author of the book "Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World."

It is possible to select any key commodity of world capitalism and write a micro-history of that commodity that will reveal much about capitalist exploitation and growth. In writing such a history it will inevitably turn into a macro-history of world capitalism. Such commodities in the pre-capitalist age would include spices and dyes. But in the age of capitalism we would include carbon-based energy, steel, cotton, the major grains (wheat and rice before 1945, corn after 1945), and the products of international agribusiness such as, coffee, bananas, cocaine, opium, etc. The history of each of these commodities, if investigated with an open mind and with skepticism towards the delusions of the "free market" would reveal the same process of state-intervention, subversion of democracy and the rule of law, violent repression of worker's self-organization and intervention by the state in order to maintain profits. The ideology of capitalism, with the propaganda on how capitalism thrives in democratic republics where "free markets" are the norm, is always subverted by the actual facts of history.

Steve: One of the big dangers with any kind of monoculture agriculture is if one of them is going to get it, they're all going to get it because they are clones of each other.

Koeppel: Right. And that's what makes the banana so wonderful: In a way that banana was the first fast food, you know? Every single banana is exactly the same as every other one. They are totally reliable, they ripen at the same rate; they taste the same. This is what made the banana so practical. I mean, if you think about it, bananas are cheaper than apples, yet they come from thousands of miles away; and the reason for that is that bananas have these tremendous economies of scale because they are all the same and they require the same shipping methods. They don't require six different kinds of techniques, the way the six different apples we eat do. So a banana is just the, sort of, perfect thing for cheapness. And, you know, but because each banana is identical, each banana is susceptible to the same disease. This Cavendish banana in Pakistan is susceptible to the same disease as this Cavendish banana in Guatemala. And so once the disease hits, it spreads very quickly, and that's what's happening with Panama disease right now.

Steve: Now there are some scientists who are working to try to figure out what the next banana is going to be or to stop the Cavendish from going extinct; and the world capital of banana research is in a very unexpected place, tell us about that.

Koeppel: Right! The world capital of banana research is unexpected on the surface. It is Belgium of all places, and that is where most of the work on genetic engineering of bananas is being done: in a laboratory at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, which is right outside of Brussels. And the reason for that actually is because the most important bananas in the world and the bananas that are subsistence bananas where people actually rely on them for their primary source of nutrition is in Africa. And Belgium had a great colonial interest in Africa to [through] much of the 19th century, and that colonial interest has transferred in the 20th century to a scientific interest, and so Belgians are the great banana experts of the world.

Steve: It's a fascinating artifact of colonial history. Other artifacts of colonial history, they are not even artifacts, they're still going on. Talk a little bit about the relationship between the banana and Central American politics. I mean, it's not even a relationship, the banana has been the Central American politics for [a] lot of the century.

Koeppel: Right and you know, banana companies, in order to keep bananas cheap, had to really control the cost of labor and land. By control, I mean, control. You know, they had to have no cost for labor and land. They have to have slave labor and free land and they had to take over countries and that meant brutal tactics. They had to use the U.S. military and massacres and all sorts of terrible things. Over 20 times, there were interventions whenever there were attempts to unify banana workers or have fair prices for land and these countries that were taken over by banana companies, that's where the term "banana republic" come[s] from. Interestingly, from a scientific perspective, all these needs for takeovers spring from Panama disease. Because as these banana lands go fallow, you can't grow new bananas in them once they're stricken by disease. The banana companies have a desperate need for new lands to grow their bananas and so the more the disease spreads, the more they need land; and this is why they have to take over countries and become ever more brutal because there is this geometric progression of fallow land and this desperate need to maintain their profit margins, all spreading from this advancing malady, Panama disease.

Steve: And we're talking about what Guatemala, Honduras what else?

Koeppel: Almost every nation in Central America and then spreading down to Columbia, Ecuador, and even into some of the Caribbean nations, Cuba and early on into Jamaica; you know, almost anywhere that you will see, if you go into your super market, you will see a sticker with the country of origin on it, on that banana, it was a banana republic at one point. And in some cases it still can be: [In] Ecuador, one of the perennial candidates for president is the head of the biggest banana company that is not Chiquita or Dole.

» The Shiny Confidence Game of "Postmodernism"

This is a quote from Jean-Francois Lyotard, "On the Post Postmodern," Eyeline 6 (Nov. 1987). Lyotard is talking about his book The Postmodern Condition.

I told stories in the book, I referred to a quantity of books I'd never read. Apparently it impressed people, it's all a bit of a parody.... I remember an Italian architect who bawled me out because he said the whole thing could have been done much more simply.... I wanted to say first that it's the worst of my books, they're almost all bad, but that one's the worst... really that book relates to a specific circumstance, it belongs to the satirical genre.

Whatr do you say to something like this? "Oh well, I knew it was a joke all along, too bad so many people took it so seriously." How is that for a reply? Or possibly: "It was just a way to make the rent. What did you expect? Integrity? Philosophy? Clear thinking?"

» Some Noam Chomsky Quotes
Because I haven't posted anything lately:

"If the Nuremberg laws were applied today, then every Post-War American president would have to be hanged."

"Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state."

"Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media."

"The United States is unusual among the industrial democracies in the rigidity of the system of ideological control - "indoctrination," we might say - exercised through the mass media. "

"Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it."
» The Fiction of Institutions: the Institution of Fiction
In an unusually entertaining article for The New York Times on the fall of Bear Stearns F.D.R.’s Safety Net Gets a Big Stretch
, the following quote occurs.

'As Walter Bagehot, the British financial journalist, wrote in “Lombard Street,” a 19th-century book on the monetary system, “Every banker knows that if he has to prove that he is worthy of credit, however good may be his arguments, in fact, his credit is gone.”'

A good amount of philosophical, psychological, and sociological cogitation could be stirred to life by that quote. One could also imagine an evolutionary psychologist inventing a nice story about how social intelligence and deception combine to make a 'person' worthy of credit.

What I would like to observe is something else. Walter Bagehot touches on an aspect of all human institutions that philosophers count on and historians ignore.

As far as we know humans are the only life forms evolved on our planet who have developed flexible and changeable institutional structures, such as states, bureaucratic entities, organized religion, voluntary associations, and, most importantly today, business institutions, such as the modern corporation. Such institutional entities are always a "fiction." They are not "fictional" in a trivial way but "fictional" to some important extent that says something about human society, history, and how we come to understand and misunderstand the world we have created for ourselves.

I put the word "fiction" in quotes here to signal the idea that I believe that these institutional entities are not un-"real" social structures, but that they are social structures created by human beings and treated by us "as if" they were natural and/or monstrous phenomena. These institutions are socially constructed "as-ifs": "as if" the business institution of the corporation is a person or an "agent"; "as if" the institution of the Monarchy was the sovereign King and all aspects of the monarchy were an extension of the King-himself; "as if" the "Pricipate" of Augustus restored the Republic and as if the Imperator Augustus were the "Son of God" and "the Prince of Peace;" "as if" the "free market" were an imitation of Darwinian naturalism. These "as-ifs" can be extended to all historical periods and all human institutions back to our existence as hunter-gatherers. Each "as if" then becomes part of an interconnected chain of "as-ifs"... "as if" the institution were an agent with a personality; as if the agent owned a physical "bank"; as if the bank contained the money in a box; as if the money were backed by "gold" and "silver"; as if gold and silver were worth anything; as if gold could buy your life by the hour or the day. I use the term "fiction" as a placeholder for these chains of "as-ifs" that are assumed and "forgotten" when we encounter social institutions. I use the term in the same sense as the term "legal fiction" is used by lawyers.

Calling an institutional "fictional," and at the same time recognizing those institutions as part of the structure of our social reality, seems to me to capture the counterfactual nature of many aspects of complex society. These "as-ifs" are part of a collectively written fiction about ourselves, our history, and our society. Yet these institutional "as-ifs" only come about when society develops complex settlements. Hunter gatherers don't need institutional "as-ifs"; they simply have stories and myths about the world around them. These stories are not meant to justify their own institutions "as if" the institution was created by nature, but to justify life and nature itself, "as if" the human story were a narrative and we could make sense of the world. Hunter gatherer societies simply do not have the same kind of institutional "entities" that agricultural settlements develop out of necessity.

The joke is on us. The way ancient humans misattributed personality and agency to natural phenomena, we misattribute personality and agency to institutions. Ancient humans did not understand and could not control natural phenomena; yet we act in relation to our own historically developed institutions, "as if" they were a phenomena of nature that we do not understand and cannot control. Institutions do not act. People act. A corporation does not "do" anything. People do things, individually and collectively in the name of the corporation. But the agency of the corporation is something that we accept because it is structured into our society at every level of economics and law. We even use "branding" in totemic and semi-religious ways, "as if" we could assume the attributes (coolness, power, abundance, success, sexual prowess) of the shared corporate "personality" by wearing or displaying the brand. The institutions we have created have become as Gods and Monsters to our own eyes. They seem to have created us. And the more this "seeming" is not within our individual control, and we do not organize ourselves for collective control, the more we attribute to those institutions the personality and activity that is in fact our own.

At times of crisis, when institutions or parts of institutions crumble, the fictional aspects of such institutions suddenly seem obvious. The idea of the divine right of kings seems absurd to us now. It seems an obvious fiction in order to justify the larger institutional structure of Monarchy. And yet old fictions often reappear when sophisticated institutions breakdown. Aspects of the divine right of kings reappear in the United States all the time, under the guise of manifest destiny and nationalism of course, but more directly in the idea that a President, whether McKinley or Bush, confers with God when making his decision on the best way to kill and conquer foreign peoples. When the current fiction of institutions breaks down what we tend to find are older fictions reappearing. (Sometimes you wonder whether reality itself is just fiction all the way down.) But it is the weight of my argument that we actually perceive these institutional fictions as a sort of "unreality" and "absurdity" of these institutions. It takes a fair amount of self-deception and (continuous) postponement of disbelief to go along with these institutional fictions. Some people are in fact better at self-deception than others and it is these people that fit in best with the corporate institutions.

What I have been writing about here are aspects of ideology. When talking about the "as ifs" of institutions I am digging into some of the social aspects of the fiction of ideology. These social constructs must at some level merge with cognitive structures of our brain. When we move to such concepts as self-deception I fear I am bringing the circle around to evolutionary thinking. As Robert Trivers has said, the ability to decieve oneself can confer advantage in some circumstances; because those who are best at deceiving themselves are also best at decieving others about themselves. The fiction of institutions merges with the ability to deceive others and oneself about the institutions we work with and within. Thus begining with the idea of "credit", we can end with the idea that "credit" in our society, for massive institutions especially, is a kind of evolutionary arms race between deception and discovery, where self-deception plays a large part.

Jerry Monaco
10 March 2008
New York City

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» The Nature of Athenian Democracy: An Answer to a Reader's Question

The Nature of Athenian Democracy: An Answer to a Reader's Question

A reader asks in a comment on my post The Character of Socrates and His Bad Arguments: The anti-democratic dialectic:

March 8th, 2008 - 08:16 pm

"A couple of questions:

"1) When Plato uses the term democracy does he refer to the practice of Athenian government (which I take it was something like the government envisaged by the American founders, a government of the "right people" who own property)? Where could he have gotten a more radical concept of democracy from?

"2) Though the allegory of the cave is supposed to be a metaphor about knowledge (the difference between opinion and true knowledge), it does present a suggestive picture of an actual political state. If so, what state is it meant to depict? Seems unlikely that Plato would depict an ideal aristocratic form of government in this way, though that is what it seems to be.

This discussion is further confused by current opinion that Strauss and the neoconservatives were inspired by Plato's idea of a ruling class of philosopher kings."

I will answer the first question in your comment in this post. But I urge the reader, whoever he or she is, to spur me to go on to the second question because it is the more complicated question. To answer the second question involves an evaluation of the place of philosophy in a democratic society. It requires literary judgment about the place of Plato's "allegory of the cave" within the Republic. It urges a contrast between our current philosophical interpreters of Plato and Socrates with the historical interpreters of Athenian society that produced Socrates and Plato. (In our specialized academic factories the philosophers rarely talk to the historians, except in the most trivial ways.) Finally your question can be properly back-lit by a contrast between Karl Popper and Strauss, who came to complimentary conclusions about Plato but for opposite reasons. When dealing with the political web of the allegory of the cave and its many connections a short answer is simply not enough. This is true if for no other reason than that the allegory comes in the context of explaining who and what a philosopher is and how he (for Plato a philosopher must be gendered "he") can guide and guard the state. So dear reader, please hold me to my promise to go down into this cave and come back out with a bit of explanation.

As for your first points, let me state bluntly that the premises of your questions are wrong. What I offer below is an explanation of the radical nature of Athenian democracy and a historiographic explanation for why the nature of Athenian democracy has been ignored or slandered.

Periclean Athens was a democracy of all citizens. Athens remained a democracy for more than 300 years and I would argue, at its height, was one of the most radical democracies in history. After the Age of Pericles Athens continued to be a democracy, except during brief periods of political unrest and Spartan sponsored tyranny. Even after Alexander conquered the city, and ended Athenian independence, internal affairs were run democratically until Athens organized a rebellion against Macedonian rule.

The time of Socrates and Plato was part of the most expansive periods of Athenian democracy. If you were a citizen you were a person who could, and probably would, serve on the administrative and policy making councils of the Athenian demos. Practically all of the important political positions were filled by lottery. All citizens in good standing were eligible for the lottery. Important issues were put to the vote in the assembly of all citizens. To maintain control of the aristocratic classes individuals of the upper classes were encouraged to bring law cases against other members of the upper classes, and the judges of those cases were large juries chosen by lots. Aristocrats were rewarded for ratting on other aristocrats for nonpayment of religious dues to maintain public festivals. If an aristocrat became too powerful he would often be ostracized.

Modern day societies could learn a lot about control and punishment of rulers and owners by studying Athenian methods. Imagine if Corporation X could be rewarded by forcing another Corporation Y to pay Corporation X's taxes if X discovers that Y is violating health and safety rules, or is polluting, or is not paying its taxes. Such a situation would mean that "trial lawyers" would constantly be hired by one corporate entity to make sure that other corporate entities do not violate the commonweal. This was essentially the situation between aristocratic families in democratic Athens. Also, imagine if every five years or so we could vote to confiscate the property and send into exile any CEO that we choose by a simple majority vote. That might help keep the CEOs in line and stop them from laying off or transferring factories to non-union environments.

Athens was, of course, a limited democracy, but what limited the democracy was the exclusivity of citizenship, not economic restrictions within Athens. Some of the richest residents of Athens were non-Citizens, called "metics," who had been invited to Athens because of their expertise in some craft or trade. Cephelus, who the reader meets in the first book of "The Republic," is reputedly the richest man in Athens and yet he is not a citizen and neither is his son Polemarchus, who was probably born in Athens. Foreigners and their descendants, no matter longer how long they lived in Athens, nor how successful they became, could not become "Athenians." Women were not considered citizens, nor did they have many legal rights, or rights of property. There is also the historically contentious problem of slavery, and the debates of slavery's relation to democratic Athens. Citizens could not become slaves, because of the reforms at the root of the democracy. But there is a good argument that imperialism fed slavery, and that slavery allowed for leisure even among citizen-tradesmen.

Still, those who served on the assemblies and committees that amounted to the Athenian governmental apparatus were selected by lot. There was no property qualification for citizenship and no property qualification for being selected by lot to serve in the government apparatus. *[See bibliographical note below.]

My questioner is wrong to say that Athens was a government of the owners of property. And the questioner is mostly wrong to point to Athenian democracy as a model for the Revolutionary generation of the American colonists in the future United States.

For that last statement I would like to make some qualifications. Some of the more radical revolutionists anticipated some of the more radical "romantics" and did indeed look back to Athens as part of the "republican" tradition that they aspired to. The challenging radicalism of Athenian democracy was never accepted in all of its messy "populism". Thomas Paine is one such radical, but there were others. These were mostly "localists" (my term). It must be emphasized that many of these "radical democrats" were not themselves aware of some of the more radical aspects of the Athenian constitution. A list of aspects of the Athenian polity they were unaware of were "punishment" of powerful aristocrats through the encouragement of law suits, annual votes of ostracism, and other anti-aristocratic measures that might have transformed "radical republican" thinking into "radical democratic" thinking. In the debate over the Constitution these "localists" became anti-Federalists.

Of those who drew up the U.S. Constitution, the evidence shows that James Madison was influenced by the Roman Constitution as a model, or rather the Roman Constitution as they knew it through Polybius and Montesquieu. The concept of separation of powers, with each power as a check on the other was from the Roman constitution. The concept of "mixed" government -- monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy -- balanced in a republican form of government, was also considered a reason for the success of the Roman Constitution and was copied by Madison. *

Even given the mistakes in the premises of the above questions they are still good questions. Such questions and misconceptions get to the heart of a long debate in the literature on the basic nature of Athenian democracy. The debate has taken place on both the left and the right. But the debate has not been over the nature of the Athenian constitution, per se, or over whether all citizens could vote in assemblies. The historians are certain of these aspects of the Athenian city-state. The debate is over whether Athenian Democracy was merely a democracy, de jure, but a de facto oligarchy.

There are three political traditions that have through the ages framed the debate over the nature of Athenian Democracy: (1) The radical democratic supporters of democracy; (2) Conservative and reactionary critics of all democracy as a form of mob rule; (3) Liberal and social-democratic critics of ideology and propaganda.

It will not surprise most readers that until the late 19th Century most historians fell into the second category of conservative and reactionary critics. The people I am terming "radical democrats" were mostly left out of the "official" historical debate. Thus you would find the radical democratic arguments among non-historians such as Romantic poets, or in the speeches of politicians, or as a negative reflection of the arguments of philosophers. It was not until the generation of 1968 found made its long march through U.S. and British universities that notions of radical democracy found its reflection among professional historians. Liberal and social-democratic historiography appeared late on the scene and was mostly concentrated in Germany. Most of the social democratic historiography only survived for a short period and found its demise with the rise of fascism.

All three of these traditions divided among themselves along similar lines. Was Athenian democracy a façade for elite or oligarchic rule or was it the real thing? If it was the real thing was Athenian democracy a form of terror inducing and redistributive "mob rule" or was it a stable form of "rule of law" with norms for elite control of the mob and democratic control of the aristos? Was the "slave mode of production" and imperial domination essential to the success of the "democracy" (thus making "democracy" a façade for the exclusive domination of Athenian citizens over others) or was Athenian domination of others simply a side-effect of the strength and patriotic unity of the democracy? Along with these questions a number of subsidiary questions formed: for instance, was some amount of equality imposed upon the aristocratic classes at the expense of liberty? Was the demand for equality in Athens simply a façade used by some factions, or individuals, of the aristocratic classes to politically defeat or ostracize other aristocrats?

What might seem a bit strange is that the debate over Athenian democracy was crystallized around contemporary evaluations of the rise of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. But I think most readers with a working knowledge of 20th Century history can see how the problematic aspects of Athenian democracy could be worked out around the multiple crises (and failures) of revolutionary socialism between 1917 and 1939, i.e. the rise of Fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain, and the triumph of the Stalinist dictatorship. In a sense, the question of whether Fascism was a form of mob-rule, and thus a deformed form of democracy, was the same as the question of whether democracy in Athens was the rule of the "demos" or a façade for the dictatorship of the demagogues. The question of whether Stalinism was the dictatorship of the proletariat or the terror regime of the nomenklatura was posed in similar ways in the historiography of Athenian democracy.

It is also a bit strange, to me at least, that the main polemical statement articulating the negative side of the debate over Athens was in a book about the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Principate of Augustus. The book is one of the best classical histories written in the 20th century and rewards reading by historian and non-historian alike, Ronald Syme's "The Roman Revolution." It was published in June 1939 and Syme wrote under the pressure of the events in Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia during the darkest period for liberals and social democrats. Syme stated that "The Roman Revolution" was both a historical and political intervention against the dominance of Stalinism and Fascism.

Near the very beginning of Syme's elegantly written book is what has been termed "Syme's Law."

"In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade." (p. 7)

That sentence is the statement of Syme's Law. Once stated, many historians, for good and ill, and on the left and right, recognized the truth of Syme's Law.

But is it a universal truth? Put it this way. It can easily be seen that our Republic here in the United States, for a long time, was simply a Republic that was acknowledged as a national oligarchy with some local democracy. As John Jay said: "Those who own the country should rule it." But are all democratic forms actually a façade for the rule of a small group of "men"? Is this true of all small towns as well as the country as a whole. Is there any tug of war between oligarchic dominance and democratic institutions?

Apply some of these questions to the Athenian city-state. The history of the rise of democratic forms in Athens is the history of the suppression of family based alliances in favor of economic-based alliances. The rise of democracy involved the suppression of the arbitrary rule of family-dominated clans who exercised sovereignty over land and slaves as if they were proto-states, in favor of small landowners who farmed their own land. These smaller landlords increased their social power by making alliances with a small group of tradesmen, skilled and unskilled. This final point, the rebellion against the arbitrary rule of richer landlords and their family alliance, is what we usually call the formation of "the rule of law."

The rebellion against family rule and the formation of the rule of law is paralleled in the city-states that under went a military revolution based on the hoplite phalanx. It seems that the military revolution that occurred around the same time in these city-states promoted small landowner unity against the rule of the big man or big family -- the chief, or the king and his allies. This occurred because the phalanx was the best military formation yet invented for a relatively small city-state. In order for a phalanx formation of hoplites to work, a high-level of training and trust must be maintained within the formation. The training of an army of citizen-farmers and the necessary high level of solidarity between those farmers led to group formation and group consciousness against the aristocrats who were mostly on horses. Thus around the 8th and 7th Centuries B.C.E. in many of the Greek cities throughout the Mediterranean legal rules were first formed and eventually individual rule was replaced by collective rule. Athens was unique both for the relative low quality of its land and the resultant size of its trading classes. This made the base for the transformation to collective rule much wider in Athens than in other city-states. Add to this the necessity of training a citizen-navy further increases the social weight of the citizens necessary to create a democratic city-state. Eventually collective rule encompassed all citizens. Simultaneously a number of "limiting" rules were instituted to prevent the reassertion of oligarchic rule of any kind, most particularly the choosing of government administration through a lottery where all citizens participated.

But it was mostly the political and ideological influence of Syme's Law that pushed the debate from 1939 onward. The debate over Athenian Democracy in the post-war period paralleled the debate over the difference between "stable" democratic societies, that respect the rule of law, and private property, and "mob rule" that aims at revenge against minorities or confiscatory redistribution of wealth.

Plato recognized the radical challenge of Athenian Democracy to the rule of "the best," the rule of the nobles. Was politics really only the rule of the strong? Do the strong set the definition of what is called justice? It challenged him to question the nature of every political construct and constitution. It led him to realize that the "rule of the best" and the "rule of the strong" did not coincide, especially since he had before his eyes the example of the strong "demos" and the weak aristocracy. How could an "aristocracy" become so weak? That was the next question. And the answer was because the aristocracy was in truth not made up of the best men, of the "true" elite. Plato further saw that all of the "best" aristocrats (Pericles for instance) had adapted themselves to the democracy by taking up "speech-making" and it was the job of those faux-philosophers "the Sophists" to teach the aristocrats how to make speeches. The Sophists gained the enmity of Plato because they taught the aristocrats, the "natural" ruling class, to accommodate itself to democratic forms.

But the main reason why Plato opposed democracy is that he saw clearly that its "truths" were formed in the market place, the agora. The coin of the political "market place" was not gold or silver. The coin was rhetoric. In the view of Plato, rhetoric created values, false values from his point of view, but false values that could be exchange in the dirty politics of bartering for power. In the Assembly and in the Law Courts the Athenian's philosophy, a philosophy of the masses, was formed everyday. Plato believed that this was a false philosophy, what we would call today an "ideology". But he did not deny its power and he did not deny its origins in the democratic practice of debate, of give and take. Ultimately mass juries of citizens formed the power of democratic ideology in the crucible of "judging" guilt, innocence and punishment in the open courtroom of the agora. And as a result of the rhetoric of debate in the agora mass assemblies of citizens gathered and made political "decision" that turned "ideology" (this "false philosophy") into the reality of power.

It is precisely at here, at the crossroads of mass power and debate, decisions and rhetoric, that Plato's "Philosopher Ruler" and the "allegory of the cave" can be seen as a solution to this mess of mob rule. Plato would oppose the false philosophy of the masses making decisions as a collective with the true philosophy of the eternal thoughtfulness.

* Bibliographical note: A book that goes through the arguments over the nature of Athenian Democracy is Josiah Ober's "Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens." I highly recommend Ober's book for those interested in the technical issues of the status of democracy in classical Athens. Ober, in my opinion, is a bit of an old fashion "radical democrat" in his point of view. He is not a Marxist in his method. Ober writes from within a tradition of American pragmatism as he reinterprets it through John Searle's "Speech Act Theory." I am heavily indebted to Ober's work though in the end I would emphasize the "exclusivity" of the citizenship requirment as a crucial factor in Athenian cohesion.

A historian who argues for a conclusion similar to Ober's is Ellen Meiskins Wood in her book "Peasant, Citizen, & Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy". She writes from within a Marxist tradition. It is especially interesting how the class analysis tradition of Meiskins Wood contrasts with the elite-mass analysis if Ober.

Both of these books are interventions in a long argument about the nature of Athenian democracy. Thus one of Wood's point is that the great Marxist historian G. E. M. Ste. Croix was wrong to emphasize that Athens relied heavily on slavery in his great book "The Class Struggle in the Ancient World." Ober's book argues against what might be called "the American functionalist view" that Athenian democracy was a facade for elite or oligarchic control. Meiskins Wood argues against some in the Marxist tradition of interpreting Athens as if slavery and slavery alone could define its mode of production.

For a general introduction to Athenian Democracy I would suggest two short and easy books, "Athenian Democracy" by A. H. M. Jones and "The Birth of Athenian Democracy: The Assembly in the Fifth Century B.C." by Chester G. Starr. Both of these books can be found cheaply and the Jones book is usually available at good libraries.

For more on the Roman Republic and the U.S. Constitution see Paul Rhae's "Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution." Also see William Everdell's "The End of Kings" and for an old succinct article that I think I can email to anyone to see, The Influence of Rome on the American Constitution, R. A. Ames, H. C. Montgomery, The Classical Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Oct., 1934), pp. 19-27. There have been many books written on this subject but this short article sums up the view of the influence of the Roman Constitution in a few short pages. I think one conclusion United Statesians should draw from this is that in order to understand the origins of their constitution they should read Polybius.

In the main body of the text I bibliograph Ronald Syme's "The Roman Revolution". I suggest that the reader look at the book for himself. But if there is a need to know the extent of the impact of Ronald Syme's book on classical historiography I suggest looking through Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and His Principles edited by Kurt A. Raaflaug and Mark Toher. Most of the essays reflect directly upon the impact of Ronald Syme.

Jerry Monaco
10 March 2008
New York City

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» The Character of Socrates and His Bad Arguments: The anti-democratic dialectic
I tend to agree with Roslyn Weiss' characterization of Socrates as presented in her book The Socratic Paradox and Its Enemies, or at least with how her books is epitomized by the reviewer Sung-Hoon Kang. The reviewer himself disagrees with Weiss. I have not read Weiss' book so I can only comment on the review itself.

I will state my controversial theses (and apparently Weiss"s also) about Plato's Socrates at the beginning. Plato's Socrates, is not a pretty fellow as presented in the dialogues. An open minded and "unphilosophical" reader should notice the following three aspects of Socrates way of arguing: (1) Socrates used "bad arguments," instrumentally, in order to win; (2) Socrates was extremely confident in his beliefs and controlled and manipulated his interlocutors; (3) Socrates cheated in his arguments in the name of what he called justice. (Note: I think, One reason why first time readers often find Plato's dialogues difficult to read is that they see the obvious manipulation by Socrates of his interlocutors and yet the first time reader is directed to ignore these obvious aspects of Socrates way of arguing by most professional philosophers.)

I think any common sense reading of the dialogues should bring an open minded person to these conclusions. The fact that most philosophers, with a few exceptions, avoid these conclusions is what needs to be interpreted and criticized. As I will make clear below, I believe that the main reason for this avoidance of the obvious by professional philosophers is the refusal to set the dialogues, as well as Socrates himself, in their historical and political context. Socrates believed that virtue and justice must have (did have) a foundation or ground and that the political form of democracy was, not only without foundation, but, was anti-foundational in all aspects. Thus Thrasymachus in the first book of The Republic and Callicles in The Gorgias both present a parody of democracy; i.e. democracy cannot provide a "grounding" for justice but only a relativistic definition of justice which varies according to who has power.

So (if the reviewer of Weiss is correct in his characterization of Weiss's interpretation of Socrates) I agree with the general characterization of Socrates as presented below while disagreeing with how to interpret this characterization. Practically all professional philosophers, even those whose politics are democratic, are invested in the "anti-demos" foundation of Plato's Socrates, without necessarily being able to make Socrates's anti-democratic views explicit, because the political context of Plato and Socrates in democratic Athens is left out of the interpretive vision. This prevents them from recognizing the absurd, the bad, the instrumental, manipulative, and the cheating aspects of Socrates's arguments, or when recognizing those aspects they are prevented from interpreting them vigorously and "benevolently," because they don't understand Socrates's prejudice, hatred even, of "the people". From what I can gather Weiss is clear-eyed about Socrates's arguments, but she is unable to see the political hatred of all aspects of Athenian democracy that makes those ways of arguing necessary.

Here is the reviewer's evaluation of Weiss, and followed by my critique.
First of all, Weiss’s Socrates unabashedly uses bad arguments. Admittedly, Plato does have Socrates use bad arguments, if by "bad arguments" we mean invalid ones. But bad arguments in themselves may not be so bad ad hominem. Contexts may help us fill in some hidden premises in the arguments, often ones that only the interlocutors are committed to. I believe one important job of commentators is to reveal such hidden premises. (And, as I understand it, this is the principle of charity combined with taking contexts into account.) Weiss takes a slightly but significantly different approach. On her account, too, Socrates' bad arguments are not "bad" ad hominem; they are good for winning against the opponent.[3] Weiss's Socrates is not so much concerned about whether or not his argument is a non-sequitur. His main concern is whether or not it is effective for his purpose.

This brings us to the second feature of Weiss's Socrates: he is not a genuine seeker of truth. With regard to moral questions, he thinks he knows pretty much everything he needs to know and has it all figured out. So finding out the truth is not among his motivations for discussing with his interlocutors. This Socrates is a dogmatist who is so confident in his beliefs that he controls, manipulates, and cheats his interlocutors. It is worth noting that, if Socrates is assumed to be a genuine seeker of truth, he can be presented to hold different (tentative) views in different dialogues. In that case, we can say that Socrates holds some core moral beliefs, such as that justice is an essential element of a good life, but tries hard to justify those beliefs by figuring things out through discussion with various people including, of course, sophists. This would be a nice alternative to Weiss's Socrates, who is not interested in justification and cheats in order to win.

What is most disturbing about Weiss's Socrates is that he does wrong (cheating) in the name of justice. As I understand it, a just person is not a person for whom winning is everything: how to win is more important for him/her. Perhaps Weiss is right that Socrates as a just person cannot afford to lose against the enemy of justice. Still, that doesn't mean that he would use any means to achieve his goal. On the contrary, he would be all the more concerned about the means because resorting to unjust means is already a way of losing to the enemy of justice. On the familiar traditional picture of Socrates, of course, he would think that he doesn't have to resort to unjust means because he firmly believes that justice (and truth) does have power in itself and that injustice never pays. Indeed, resorting to unjust means would be a stupidity according to what he preaches through the Socratic paradoxes. On the new Weissian picture of Socrates, he would think that he ought not to resort to unjust means because he is a Kantian who believes that one ought not to do wrong even if it pays. So either way, resorting to unjust means cannot be endorsed by Socrates.(from Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2008-03-01 : View this Review Online : View Other NDPR Reviews: Roslyn Weiss, The Socratic Paradox and Its Enemies, University of Chicago Press, 2006, 235pp., $35.00 (hbk), ISBN 0226891720. Reviewed by Sung-Hoon Kang, Seoul National University)

This view of Socrates may be disturbing but I believe it contains much truth.

First, we have to understand that this is Plato's portrait of Socrates and to some extent it coincides with other views of Socrates.

Second, we have to understand that Socrates is fighting a battle, a battle against what he believes is the abomination of democracy. It is not necessary to dismiss everything that Socrates or Plato says with the realization of the anti-democratic thrust of philosophy, it is only necessary to keep the political context in mind when interpreting what Plato writes about Socrates.

Third, it is through the aristos vs. demos context of Socrates's statements that we can understand why he fights his enemies the way he does. Socrates has to be a bit sly and obtuse in order to avoid being accused of betraying the Athenian city-state itself. (The reader should only be reminded of Socrates' enthusiastic admiration of the Spartan political system in Plato's presentation of Socrates and that the Spartans attempted to destroy Athenian democracy during the same period.) Thus Socrates doesn't attack the demos, the people, directly but rather attacks those "philosophers" among the people who divert the aristos from their calling as rulers of the city-state. He attacks those who train the upper classes in making arguments, i.e. in manipulating the people. He attacks those who wish to help accommodate the aristos in making compromises with Athenian democracy. Thus Socrates attacks his main philosophical enemy the Sophists. If he uses the methods of the Sophists to attack the Sophists, it is because those weapons are the only ones that the Sophists themselves will listen to, and only then will Socrates be able to win over a small coterie of aristos to his philosophical virtue.

Fourth, it is necessary to understand how Socrates uses his dialectic and the nature of the Socratic method of examination (the elenchos or elenchus); but more importantly, how the dialectic relates to the anti-democratic thrust of the Platonic dialogues. Most professional philosophers understand the dialectic but they don't account for the anti-democratic nature of the dialectic. Socrates is not merely lying or cheating in his arguments, he is also trying to trap his interlocutors in their own confusions. Here's his problem from the anti-democratic point of view. He needs to provide a foundation for "justice" and yet he himself does not necessarily know what that foundation should be. The people he is arguing with are suffering from several illusions; that justice needs no foundation; that justice has a foundation in "the natural world" of the city-state; that whether justice has a foundation or not has nothing to do with the political form of democracy; that the democracy that bore and bred them has had no influence on their illusions. Note, what Socrates wants to do is find the ground of justice. In order to find the ground he must have people who are willing to search for it with him. In his view these people, the aristos, don't even realize that justice has no ground and that democracy is by nature anti-foundational. The very idea of democracy either means that there is no truth or that truth is relative to the power of the majority. Thus Socrates must reveal the anti-foundational nature of mob rule in order to even begin the process of searching for the foundations that he desires to find. And he has to do this every time he begins a dialogue. This puts Socrates in the postion of imitating the "anti-truth" seekers of democracy in order to reveal to them that what they are seeking is no truth at all. Once he is able to "turn around the souls" (think of the parable of the cave) of his interlocutors, then and only then, can he reverse the process of his manipulation and cheating and begin the search anew. In this view the elenchos is not only a method of examination and argument, but a kind of therapy, a way to bring the interlocutor who is willing to "turn-around" to a recognition of a need for self-punishment, guilt and shame. For those who are not willing to listen, the unreconstructed Sophists and/or "democrats", the elenchos is simply punishment and nothing else. To them the method can seem like lying and cheating and manipulation but it is really only their just deserts. Either way, from the anti-democratic point of view the seeming "injustice" of lying for the sake of the truth turns out to be a form of justice.

Jerry Monaco
4 March 2008
New York City

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» William F. Buckley & Funerary Gossip: Death of a Racist, Homophobic, Intellectual Bully
I read and occasionally write on Doug Henwood's list-serve, lbo-talk. I am not proud but I find that this list serve gets my blood moving in the morning and so I find it useful.

Sometimes I look away from the list and when I come back I am surprised that the "conversation" has been taken over by subjects that seem to me in no need of thought. The Obama-phenomena is analyzed endlessly, or some piece of gossip is magnified into a world-historical event. So what do I do? Do I ignore the needless noodling over meaningless mites? No, of course not, I jump right into the fray.

So instead of ignoring the fact that so many on the left were offering praise to William F. Buckley as if he were an old friend -- a little bit cranky, a little crusty and full of harrumphs and grumps, perhaps, but still someone that will be missed -- I filled myself with my own harrumph and cranked my way through a few posts. So here I reprise, pretty-up, and expand my warranted invective against William F. Buckley. I salute the news of William F. Buckley's disappearance from the world of the living and hating. This is my anti-obituary for a man who we should have never had paid attention to in the first place.

It is said that we should speak well of the dead or not speak at all. Such beliefs are enforced by superstition though they are more than superstition. It is not simply because we are afraid that speaking ill of the the dead will bring the haunting spirit back to plague us that such norms exist. You can gossip about the living but gossiping about the dead, at least soon after their death, can bring bad tidings in a tightly knit society.

Think of it this way. Historically, when city-states were first emerging from the rule of a single family, or alliance of families, into a political formation that looks like the establishment of "the rule of law," some of the first laws recorded are usually concerned with funerals. Funerary Legislation were part of Solon's reforms in the forms that followed on the establishment of the Republic in Rome. When we have information on the laws pasts by emerging city-states they often contain Funerary Legislation. Why? Because the political alliances in a small city usually revolve around extended families. The main "coin" of family rule is reputation; reputation of particular family traits and characteristics and, especially, the reputation of the character and greatness of ancestors. An emerging "Republic" or "Democracy" needs to contain the rule of aristocratic families and the potential for "civil"l war between feuding families. Funerary rites and celebrations were often occasions for violence, reaction, and reciprocal revenge between feuding family alliances. Thus it was necessary for the stability of emerging city-republics to introduce regulations on funerary rites, limiting the amount that could be spent on funerary games, the size of funeral processions. The introduction of the rule of law into emerging city-states always began with ways of limiting family rivalries and family dominance. There were also substantial laws that would limit privilege in other ways.

Along with the funerary laws there were also restrictive social norms against speaking bad of the dead for much the same reasons that the funerary laws existed. Gossip is important in a small society, but the main thrust of gossip about the dead was to denigrate a family as a whole In such a situation speaking of the dead could begin a cycle of revenge that could tear apart a small society. Gossip in a small society is often a regulatory mechanism but it was important to wait a decent interval when gossiping of the recently deceased in order to separate the gossip that was specifically about the person and gossip that could rebound onto a whole family. The problem of honor and reputation of a dead family member was not merely a "personal" problem. Honor and reputation, and the gossiping that circulated around such attributes, were essential sources of public "knowledge" about who to trust and who to follow in such small societies. Gossiping in such a society was the act of a citizen. It was "news", it was the grease of that facilitated the circulation of knowledge about reputation.

Gossip in mass society functions in a much different way We are allowed to have the illusion, the feeling of gossip as a controlling mechanism and a public act, but in fact it has become its opposite. In mass society celebrity gossip gives us the illusion of control and intimacy without actually providing the real thing. Gossip in fact has become a private act.

Perhaps it is a hangover from the old ways that so many liberals have found it in their heart to praise William F Bucklwy or to gossip about his urbanity. Or perhaps it is mistaking the intimacy of gossip for the public acts of rhetoric.

Katherine vanden Heuvel writes in Newsweek:

But rather than rehearse our many ideological differences, I come to NEWSWEEK not to bury Buckley, but, believe it or not, to offer some respect for the man and the editor. More important than any of the particular ideas in which Buckley believed was his belief in the power of ideas themselves. When the audacious, young Yale grad founded National Review in 1955, he hoped to accomplish more than anyone really expected a magazine to be capable of. He sought not only to rejuvenate the conservative movement, but also, simultaneously, to remake it.
Despite his uncompromising conservative beliefs, Buckley reveled in transpartisan friendships, most notably with the late John Kenneth Galbraith. (One of Galbraith's favorite phrases—"Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue"—may well have been coined to describe his skiing partner Buckley.) While he could deploy a sometimes vicious wit—which could descend into cruelty—Buckley disdained the kind of partisan shoutfests that too often pass for political debate on our TVs today.

Doug Henwood said on his list:

Hey, he used to be one of my heroes. And he was pretty influential. So I'm interested in the old bastard's passing.

His son Christopher was in my college class. My class listserv is having an outpouring of grief over WFB's death. They're almost all liberal Dems - many to the left of Clinton. But he's one of them, or us, or whatever. The NYT said today that while he hated liberal ideas he never hated liberals. He was, you know, civil, unlike now.

There is a feeling that I get from most of the liberal meditations on the death of Buckley that this is a family drama of the intellectual elite. They all went to Yale or Harvard, they all lived through the time when Bill Buckley was a witty guy on the other side. So they are losing an old friend.

There is no reasons for liberals to be polite about a man such as William F. Buckley. I think that any kind of admiration for this man is a kind of malfunction of liberal intellectual culture. On the LBO list I said:

Buckley was a racist, a sexist, homophobic, and an extreme militarist. He was anti-worker, anti-working class, and anti-union. He was an unapologetic supporter McCarthyist witch hunts. He felt personally insulted by anyone who questioned privilege. As far a I know he never apologized for supporting segregation, or for in fact believing that Jim Crow was a good thing in his youth. In short he was a model intellectual. Why would anyone admire him at all? He was occasionally amusing and if he could have done stand up on the page the way his son Christopher Buckley does, at least I would say he earned his living.

Questions: Why should anyone on the left pretend he was anything but a bad influence on U.S. intellectual culture? Why should anyone admire him in any way whatsoever? He was also bad for intellectual Catholicism.

P.S. Buckley's spy novels were the worse of the genre and I have read them all. I am glutton for spy novels.

Doug Henwood asked after this tirade, "Who does pretend that [he was anything but a bad influence on U.S. intellectual culture]?"

Well, vanden Heuvel, for one. But also Doug himself who diverts himself from the ugliness of William Buckley by speaking of his personal relations with him. Everybody who would rather talk about his poise and his poses, his grace and mannerism, and the wonder that is the great personality of William F. Buckley instead of focusing on his role as right wing enforcer of intellectual reaction. Everyone who praises the gestures of his "private" life instead of the fact that he was a supporter of murder regimes, terrorist dictatorships, and deathsquad republics in every part of the world. Pretending that he was anything but a supporter of mass murder in, say, El Salvador is accepting his own public persona as his real face. It is to confuse public with private, which as I will explain, is the political function of celebrity gossip.

In the context of the usual sober celebrations of his life in the bosses media, for leftists to contribute to the misapprehension of William F. Buckley is quite annoying. At least Ann Coulter was half-honest about why she liked Buckley -- she states plainly that he was a vicious intellectual enforcer of privilege and an advocate of U.S. dominance, and that she admires him for it. She leaves out his racism and support of Jim Crow, but such old fashion marks of "conservatism" are no longer mentionable in polite society.

If liberals or leftists pay attention to Buckley at all why not analyze his role as intellectual enforcer and trainer of intellectual bullies? Why talk about how nice he was to have a conversation with? His ability to mix a great martini is irrelevant to his role in society. I am savvy to the idea of trying to understand the individual psychology of a Ku Kluxer or a Podhoretz by understanding how he treats his wife and family but that is not what is happening with the liberal appraisal of Buckley. There is no attempt to understand him as a contemptuous intellectual bully who established around him a coterie of college boys who looked up to him. There is only talk about "how good he was to his dog". (The fallacy that it matters that immorality or evil is more "interesting" because the evil person loves dogs or treats his children well is the usual liberal substituting of the personal for the social.)

Gore Vidal called William F. Buckley a crypto-Nazi. He later corrected himself and said he meant to say that Buckley had a "fascist mind set." This is perfectly true. Alexander Cockburn quotes Buckley as saying the following:

Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.

As an example of his white supremacist world-view, how about this from William F. Buckley in 1957?

The central question that emerges is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes--the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes', and intends to assert its own. National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. The great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could. Universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedom The South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. It is tempting and convenient to block the progress of a minority whose services, as menials, are economically useful. Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function.

Maybe Pinochet was good to his dog but who cares? Why should those of us on the left treat Pinochet as a dog lover instead of anything but a brutal dictator? To treat the personal humors of Buckley as serious, to treat him as a dog lover, is to confuse the public and the private. To treat Buckley as someone good to his servants is to confuse his public role as an intellectual in the forefront of anti-working class intellectual propaganda with his private role as pater familias.

Sometimes the excuse for all of this talk is that it is good gossip.

I too love gossip but part of the function of gossip is to make us believe that we are still in a small village society with few class divisions. That is what gossip does for us in mass society. It helps us to confuse the private and the public in such a way that we forget the public role, the ruling class role, of this very public intellectual. So yes, I would prefer that leftists treat him as a public intellectual who did all in his power to harm the bourgeois commonweal as well as the working class. But instead even among people I would prefer to think of as comrades this despicable reactionary man is treated as an object for gossip. I agree that gossip is fun. But this systematic confusion of public and private should be addressed by those of us on the left because it is how the U.S. rulers run their elections and make their entertainment. Instead of being analyzed it is imitated. It is imitated even by those who should know better.

I certainly agree with John Thorton's sentiments. He says:

I don't see [Buckley] as an intellectual. He was a pompous pseudo-intellectual. The gift of an expansive vocabulary along with a certain level of polish does not make WFB an intellectual. What original idea did the man ever have? What insight did he show into anything?

I'm one of those people who has an instrumental definition of intellectuals -- Anyone who does intellectual work can qualify. (Thus all lawyers qualify, as do all teachers and all journalists and pundits. Writers and artists too.... and even accountants.) I generally agree with Sartre's division between classical intellectuals, technical intellectuals, and ruling class ideologists. (Somewhere in among these classifications there is room for the working class intellectual.)

So I would prefer to say that WFB was pseudo-intelligent but none-the-less an intellectual. I am not saying he wasn't intelligent but part of his public persona was to imitate intelligence by literally tipping back his head and looking down his nose at anyone who questioned ruling class privilege. He rarely used his intelligence, but substituted for thinking the gestures of intelligence to enhance his intellectual bullying. And this is where the problem of gossip comes in again. One can accept him on his own terms and talk about Buckley's gestures and masks, the acting persona he used to enhance his role as ruling class intellectual bully, but to do so is simply to subtly give into the legitimacy of his class role.

John Thornton also said:
As an ex-Catholic I believe Catholicism itself would be bad for intellectual Catholicism so I'm uncertain how much damage WFB could do in this area.

As far as what I said previously about his influence on Catholicism I would like to explain a little. (Warning: I am an ex-Catholic and an atheist.)

Buckley lived through a transformation of Catholicism during the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIIi attempted to drag Roman Catholicism kicking and screaming into the 19th century and it nearly succeeded. Buckley was part of the intellectual reaction to the transformation of the Catholic Church. He wished to keep the Church back in the 14th century. Basically Buckley had a 14th Century mindset about who should rule and who should be ruled and he looked at the Church as one of the props for the ruling class. In the 1980s one of the few consistently liberal elite groups left in the U.S. was the Conference of Catholic Bishops. During this time Buckley kept right-wing reactionary Catholicism alive. His campaign to organize right-wing Catholics to oppose the Catholic Bishops helped to undermine the Bishop influence on public policy. The Conference of Catholic Bishops was one of the few mainstream groups to consistently oppose U.S. policy in Central America in the 1980s which produced mass slaughter of whole villages. Buckley supported the terror regimes in Central America and Brazil, regimes that murdered more Catholic church supporters -- priests, nuns, and lay practitioners -- than any governments since the Catholic Church has come into existence. He supported the reactionary torturers and murderers of priests and nuns and he never once even acknowledged that this was anything but a "good." When liberal bishops in this country spoke out against the murder of their brethren in Brazil or Central America he condemned them, and provided intellectual cover for all Catholics who would prefer to look the other way instead of confronting mass murder. In short William F. Buckley made it respectable for right wing Catholic intellectuals to justify mass murder.

I am not a Catholic and I am not a Christian. But I see no reason why I should pay homage to any aspect of this man who helped to justify mass murder.

In my youth I could express much animosity toward the Church for its reactionary role. And William F. Buckley certainly represents the continuing attempt to return to this reactionary role of the Catholic Church. But over the years I have met many Catholic intellectuals I admire and so slowly I changed my mind about the overall function of religion while still remaining anti-religious in general and an atheist in particular. The people I met were Dorothy Day, the Berrigan Brothers, and a number of priests and lay workers in base communities in El Salvador and Brazil. Their examples and their writings have impressed me as radical and hopeful and their record of consistent support for working class and peasant solidarity and organization has impressed me even more. So I am not willing to condemn all Catholic intellectuals. Still the Church, with the help of the likes of Buckley, has mostly abandoned such people or persecuted them. I tell you though, one Dorothy Day is worth any number of Bill Buckleys.
» Republicans, the Republic, and the Imperial Presidency: Clinton's Impeachment
In The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans, William R. Everdell points out the stark contrast between the reaction of Congress to Ronald Reagan's undermining of the Constitution through his funding of a "private" terrorist war in Central America (called "the Iran-Contra" scandal, though that is a misnomer) and the reaction to President Bill Clinton's lies about his own personal sexual affairs.

Twelve years after Iran-Contra, the issue of presidential power came up again, only this time Congress actually voted to impeach. This time the president was chief of the Democratic Party and the party of impeachment was the Republican, the party that had once endorsed Reagan. Small "r" republicans, one might think, should have been pleased at the Republican initiative, and the more republican they were, the less pleased one should have expected them to be that the impeachment process, which the Framers designed to check monarchical tendencies in the executive branch, had not proceeded all the way to conviction by the Senate. In the main, however, republicans disageed with Republicans . . .

Why was this so? Was it because the impeachment of William Clinton turned out badly, like that of Andrew Johnson in 1868 thus tarnishing the impeachment tool? This theory is unlikely is unlikely because the Senate's failure to convict Johnson did not, in fact, prevent impeachment from "working." Its effect was to cast an impeachment shadow over every subsequent presidency, and not until Grover Cleveland did a president indulge in the kind of unilateral action that had been characteristic of Lincoln and [Andrew] Johnson.

Everdell then points out reasons why other presidents should have been impeached but weren't. Lying, obstruction of justice, and aggrandisement of executive power are grounds for impeachment if the idea of the Republican form of goverrnment has any meaning. Going to war by executive order is grounds for impeachment if you adhere to the ideology of republicanism. There are very few republicans left in the commanding heights of the Republic. For republicans executive power is suspicious by its nature. In this light one might ponder the non-existence of republicanism in the Republican party. For a conservative republican the idea of the Imperial Presidency should be considered an abomination. By any definitiion, there have been very few leaders of the Republican Party since Thaddeus Stevens who have actually been republicans, and there have been very few leaders of the Republican Party since Robert Taft who have even tried to be conservative republicans. The name of "The Republican Party" has become like one of those real estate developments or geriatric care centers that are named Pine Estates or Lake View to make up for the complete lack of pine trees or lake views.

The impeachment tool was invented to curb the monarchical tendencies of executive power. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, Federalists and anti-Federalists alike argued over whether their were enough safe-guards against the presidency turning into an elected monarchy, no matter for how limited a time. The thrust of Hamilton's arguments in Federalist #67 and #69 was that there were plenty of limits on executive power in the Constitution and impeachment was one of them. Hamilton, who was in favor of a strong executive, seemed to believe that Congress would be vigilant in protecting the Constitution from the president. There is evidence that the framers of the Constitution thought that impeachment and the subsequent trial would not be an exceptional tool but a threat that could be used to keep the president from over-reaching. Later this was certainly the view of the radicals in the Republican Party during the period of Reconstruction. Thaddeus Stevens believed that any excessive exercise of presidential power or refusal to use the executive branch to institute the laws passed by Congress should be an impeachable offense. Presidential lying to one of the other branches and to the citizens of the Republic should be impeachable in principle. Congress, as a separate branch of government, a branch of government entailed to protect the people from the monarchical tendencies of the executive, should use impeachment, trial, and conviction to curb such misdeamenors of the President as lying to the other branches of government and to the citizenry. So why, Everdell asks, did most consistent republicans consider the use of the impeachment tool against Clinton, who lied and obstructed justice, a misuse that brought discredit to the idea of impeachment? Everdell then compares Nixon's crimes to Clinton's crimes:

[I]f President Clinton obstructed justice, in the manner alleged by the House, it can only have been in order to avoid prosecution for perjury in a civil suit brought against him personally - a perjury alleged under a legal definition which his testimony hardly met - and Clinton seems to have scrupulously avoided using the public powers of his office to fend it off. By contrast, Nixon obstructed justice in order to cover up illegal activities deliberately designed and undertaken in order to undermine the constitutional powers of the other branches of government, and thus ultimately undermining the powers of the people who made that government in the first place. Moreover, he used the statutory powers of his own office to do it. Clinton's wongdoing, in other words, was a private offense, whose victim, if any, was an individual. Nixon's wrongdoing was public; its victim was not only the people but their polity. Nixon's was therefore a crime against republican government; and Clinton's was not. Widespread inability in 1998-99 to make the distinciton between these two kinds of wrongdoing was an indication that the republican concept of political "virtue" had changed its meaning. Many on both sides of the debate, it seemed, had lost sight of the public interest and a few had even lost the capacity to deploy the very concept of the 'public good.'

Reagan's activities, too, and those of his loyal appointees, had struck a blow at republican government. . . . Reagan's wrongdoing, too, was constitutional rather than criminal, not private but public. Fundamental to all these presidential cases is a confusion between private and public, personalities and powers, that still threates the Constitution; and the impeachment of President Clinton began by making that confusion worse.

The tradition of consistent republicanism, not to say radical republicanism (both in the post-civil war Republican Party version and in the revolutionary tradition of John Milton or Thomas Paine) was once a good bourgeois tradition. It could even be considered a tradition of a section of the capitalist ruling classes. There are perhaps still a few who are rooted in this tradition --Gore Vidal comes to mind -- but it is hard to think of prominent intellectuals or capitalists that consider themselves consistent or radical republicans in this old idea of the virtue of the commonweal, res publica, the public thing.

Why has radical republicanism so thoroughly disappeared from the Republic that was at one time its modern emblem? Part of the story has to do with the rise of industrialism and the modern working class. As the socialists used to say and as was recognized even by Romantics such as Percy Shelley, it is the working class that inherited the tradition of radical republicanism. The demand for universal suffrage for all men and women became a working class demand and along with it came the idea that the economy itself was part of the commonweal. The economy was a social as well as a political good.

But this is not the part of the story I want to concentrate on. Proudhon, Marx, and Engels long ago told this story much better than I can ever tell it. They understood the decline of radical republicanism among the creators of modern republicans from a socialist and class point of view. But I think it is useful to briefly assume the world view of an Old Roman Tribune. I don't mean a famous tribune such as Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus or Marcus Livius Drusus, the kind you read about in the history books who sought to reform the Roman Repubic, in the teeth of the rulers in the Senate, for its own good These tribunes were surely good republicans and deserve our respect. What I am thinking of is the kind of tribune who fought the everyday fight for the independence of the plebs as a group and gave protection to all those who were unjustly (and sometimes justly) accused of crimes. Think of Radical Republicanism from the Old Tribune's point of view and try to translate that ideology to our time.

What the Old Tribune would see is the following: The constitutional Republic has become a vast empire and in order to control an empire there is a need for a standing army that can respond anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. In order to control this standing army a strong executive authority is required. Thus the imperial presidency grows with every expansion of U.S. military and economic dominance in the world. The Old Tribune will understand that in order to protect economic dominance military dominance must follow. Economic dominance is either protected directly through domestically raised military forces that are then stationed at foreign bases or is maintained indirectly through client state military regimes that are bought and supplied. The Old Tribune would understand that a strong executive is needed for both of these kinds of regimes of military protection. In other words he would understand the rise of the Imperial Presidency quite well. If the Old Tribune had survived a bit into the Principate of Caesar Augustus he would also understand how a Republic can maintain its outward form but at the same time come to be ruled by a strong Imperial Executive. From the Old Tribune's view it would be easy to see that that is what we have now.

The Old Tribune would find it harder to understand other aspects of our political and social system. The existence of the business institutions we call corporations does not have any easy analogy with business groupings in the Roman Republic. The nearest he could come to by way of analogy would be the publicans and the colleges of business groups. But as far as legal relations are concern the idea of the Pater Familias combined with the Publicani and Colleges (collegia opificum) would be closer to the mark for the Old Tribune. For then the Tribune would see the enormity of the power of the modern Corporation. The biggest modern multinaional corporations are bigger than all but the biggest States. The multinationals corporations act as if they have their own special sovereignty. In this sense corporations are like heads of families in the Roman Republic. Each head of a family had his own sovereign domain separate from Res Publica, just as each corporation has its own legal domain separate from the commonweal. But the difference is that there is nothing "personal" about a corporation and nothing to stop it from growing immensely big. In this way a modern corporation will look to the Old Tribune something like an impersonal separate sovereignty, a Pater Familias without moral compunction, a combination of publicani with legal sovereignty, and a huge power center with separate loyalties like one of Caesars' armies.

Now if the Old Tribune comes to that realization he will understand what has happened to the Republic. It has disappeared under overlaying sets of separate sovereignties (i.e. corporations) and the overarching Imperial Presidency that has become necessary to protect the economic domination of those separate sovereignties. The Old Tribune would tell us that we no longer have much of a Republic.

Bringing this note back to the impeachment of Clinton. Strangely, the impeachment of Clinton had the effect of strengthening the Imperial Presidency, not weakening it. The one salutary effect of the Nixon presidency was to make the idea of impeaching a president a viable alternative that could limit presidential action. There was what might be called "A Watergate Syndrome" that was analogous to "The Vietnam Syndrome." The Reaganites, among them Cheney and Rumsfeld, spent much of the 1980s arguing for an expansion of presidential power and a full return to the imperial presidency. They blamed the "Vietnam Syndrome" on the fact that the U.S. president could not bomb and invade at will, but they also blamed the "weakness" of the presidency and Watergate, on the fact that the President could not ignore Congress at will. One unintended but welcomed consequence of the Clinton impeachment proceedings was to trivilize impeachment as a tool of republicanism. Bill Clinton was an imperial president. There is no way that a president can lead this country with its military reach without acting like an imperial president. But he was too nice of an imperial president. He believed in cooperation with Congress and with European allies. This was not the kind of President that they wanted at all. How to hurt such a preseident without hurting the furture of the Imperial Presidency? By diligent displacement of problems of personality onto questions of power; by a substitution of the trivial of the private for the good of the public.

As for those of us who still consider ourselves in the revolutionary tradition (republican or socialist, bourgeois or working class) we can at least honor the ideal of republicanism of those such as Thaddeus Stevens. Let us do so by imagining a counterfactual for U.S. history. Thaddeus Stevens and his supporters succeed in convicting Andrew Johnson in the Senate. The precedent is established that "advise and consent" over members of the president's cabinet gives congress a great amount of power over how those cabinet members exercise their duties. The President's cabinet, including the Secretaries of War and of State serve at the behest of congress. In such a situation no president would be able to make an end run around congress and go to war without an official declaration of war. Such a situation would resemble a parliamentary system with the President as elected figure head, more than an Imperial Presidency.

Jerry Monaco
1 March 2008
New York City

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» Defend Creative Protest: 29 students punished after paying for $2 lunches with pennies
29 students punished after paying for $2 lunches with pennies
2/29/2008, 2:13 p.m. ET


Readington Township school officials gave 29 students detention after they used pennies to pay for their $2 lunches.

Superintendent Jorden Schiff says it started out as a prank. But as the eighth-graders began to get in trouble for taking up so much time, it turned into a protest about Thursday's shortened lunch period.

Schiff says the students were punished for holding up their peers and disrespecting lunch aides.

Schiff says some parents think a two-day detention went too far and others think it wasn't enough.

The school says it wants students to know they can express themselves without disrupting other people.

On the contrary the students were expressing themselves in a way that was nonviolent and creative and we should be proud of them. The students should be rewarded for their creative protest. In a democratic society we would promote, encourage, and honor such protests as a way for the otherwise powerless to promote their interest within the commonweal. These creative ways of getting bosses and authorities to listens, people who rarely listen to those less powerful than they are, should be taught to children as part of their preparation for citizenship.

As far as the story itself is concerned I have a few questions for the reporters: Were the students interviewed? Why should we take the word of the authority who metes out punishment? Why not ask the kids for their side? How long was the lunch period? How long does it normally take kids to get lunch and eat it?

Of course I know the reason why the kids weren't asked to contribute to this story. Their opinion really doesn't count. This is a small story and it is easier to get the story from the official, the bureaucrat, the authority or the boss, than to do the foot work and write the story as it should be written. The Associated Press certainly doesn't have the resources. But shouldn't some local paper have the resources? Shouldn't someone at least post the story of the kids on their weblog? Anyone out there in cyberspace know these kids? If you do interview them and post their stories. Maybe we have a couple of future union organizers among them.

So maybe the lunch period should be longer. And maybe the lunch should be free.
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