The perfect speech…

The perfect speech contains nothing slipshod; in it there are no loose threads; it contains no word that has been picked at random; it is not marred by errors due to faulty memory or to any other kind of carelessness; strong passions and a powerful and fertile imagination are guided with ease by a reason which knows how to use the unexpected gift, which knows how to persuade and which knows how to forbid; it allows of no adornment which is not imposed by the gravity and the aloofness of the subject matter; the perfect writer rejects with disdain and with some impatience the demand of vulgar rhetoric that expressions must be varied since change is pleasant.

Leo Strauss
Thoughts on Machiavelli, p. 121


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44 comments on “The perfect speech…

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    • Strauss wasn’t saying anything about the usefulness or validity of “imperfect speech.” He was characterizing something presumably quite rare, though it explains something about his own style.

      I singled out the one sentence, literally a sentence of sentences, about the best sentences, because of what it is. The context is a characterization of Machiavelli’s writing, which, according to Strauss, controversially, is pervaded with Machiavelli’s peculiar and even world-historical complex intentions and schemes, and is a somewhat literary-philosophical version of the kind of scheming he’s famous for urging upon others, especially ambitious others. I need to re-read the passage, but I took from it that Strauss saw Machiavelli’s writing as aiming for such perfection, if also in part by manipulating countless seeming contradictions and literary inaccuracies fully consciously. The sentence of sentences is followed by a short discussion of translations of Machiavelli that try to improve upon and correct his style according to the rules of “vulgar rhetoric.”

      The sentence of sentences, about sentences, including its Strauss-typical “pulled-up short” ending, helps explain much about Strauss’s own approach to writing, and also about attacks on it by people who agree more with those translators about what makes good writing.

      • the perfect writer rejects with disdain and with some impatience the demand of vulgar rhetoric that expressions must be varied since change is pleasant

        That sounds like he’s saying something about imperfect speech to me. And if you look at it the way we would look at music or painting, in my opinion, he’s wrong on an aesthetic level as well. The variances in a particular great musical or painterly piece my be slight and reductive compared to other pieces, but without variance there is no relational beauty. A tightness wafts off of his writing as well. The tightness is vulgarly conservative to me.

        • Writing is not music or painting. Philosophical writing may employ art or an art, but has or seeks to define a different purpose, or maybe a different way of approach overlapping purposes. That writing should more resemble music or painting, merely because musical or painterly qualities are more pleasant, seems an obviously vulgar demand – like a kind of studio producer’s suggestion on the philosopher’s set – a demand for kitsch in place of a writing that pursues its own end without wasting our time, a demand that writing yield to fashion. The aesthetics of the perfect speech would derive from its derogation of aesthetics: Adding artificially musical or painterly decorations to it would be like putting little bells and tassels on a sculpture to make sure the babies and… developmentally delayed… also “get something out of it.” Or like switching to a happy ending because it tests better with preview audiences.

          I think you’re just being playful here regarding the “tightness” of Strauss’s writing and its “vulgarity,” by which you seem to mean it corresponds to some vulgar definition of “conservative.” He does not claim to write the perfect writing, though he puts himself under its influence. He does not claim to be any kind of stylist, and he’s not writing in his mother tongue. He occasionally confesses that he considers his and our powers to be much weaker than those of the truly excellent writers of antiquity. He does produce a very identifiable style, however, including a way of writing, and thinking in prose, that manages to make complex ideas clear without turning them into oversimplifications, or on the other hand without making them more complicated than they need to be. The bells and tassels make thinking more difficult when they are not merely needless distractions or completely irrelevant.

          • I do understand the separations (between art and philosophy and philosophy and writing) that you see as relevant, and I do think the “mother-tongue” issue is relevant. But then there’s people like Thomas Mann. It’s not apples and oranges in my opinion to consider both the philosophical and artistic greatness of “Doctor Faustus,” within which the things we’re discussing here are addressed.

            The proximity of aestheticism and barbarism, of beauty and crime, is a second central element in Mann’s description of German culture which touches the fundamental role of art in society. Walter Benjamin has spoken of the fascist aestheticization of politics. Zeitblom says about one of Leverkühns major works, the Apocalypsis con figuris, that it had “a peculiar kinship with, was in spirit a parallel to, the things I had heard at Kridwiss’s table-round”, an inter-war circle in Munich that Mann describes flatly as “arch-fascist”. A few pages later, Zeitblom worries about “an aestheticism which my friend’s saying: ‘the antithesis of bourgeois culture is not barbarism, but community[9],’ abandoned to the most tormenting doubts. … Aestheticism and barbarism are (near) to each other: aestheticism as the herald of barbarism.

            To me, everything is art. That may make me a barbarian. But I trust artists. I don’t trust philosophers trying to be pure philosophers. It’s a false conservatism in itself and doesn’t, in my opinion, excuse a lack of artistry. That’s why I like your writing. There’s poetry in it. It’s playful. It’s artistic. Mann was the king of all that in my opinion. He was anything but vulgar in the way he addressed aestheticism in extremely varied ways. Even the German in the book is varied, since some chapters were written in such old, gothic style German, even native German speakers have trouble deciphering it. I love that. The writing transcends the mind level concerns of what is slipshod, or adorned. It happens on a whole other level and because it happens on a whole other level it can contain philosophical truths that mind-level writing can never express not matter how supposedly perfect it may appear to the mind.

            • You may underestimate the capacities, including the negative capability, of philosophical discourse, on the one hand, and make unjustified presumptions regarding the intentions and self-understandings of its practitioners on the other. Anyway, why so aggressive regarding a form or genre that, if it has to be assessed aesthetically, can be taken as minimalist or beautifully austere, aware of the virtues of silence and simplicity? Does the “transcendent” writing actually “contain” the “philosophical truths,” or does it refer us to them somehow without ever containing them? If they are “philosophical truths,” then doesn’t that imply access to them via philosophy, even if only after the fact? Otherwise you’re claiming a non-knowledge knowledge of a knowledge that isn’t knowledge, or a knowing that doesn’t know what it knows or even that it knows, and never realizes something actually known or knowable. Isn’t it simpler just to admit that knowledge can be attained in different ways and on different levels, but is no more or less knowledge as such? Philosophy means loves of knowledge and, for Strauss following the ancients, implies knowledge of one’s ignorance first of all – similar to the Vedic maxim, “Who thinks he knows, knows nothing; who knows he knows nothing, knows.”

  1. Well it could be he was updating Orwell’ ‘Politics of the English Language’, language should be plainly understood.

  2. Strauss always reads to me like he is begging for the Master to give him a good whipping and make him behave.

    ” Fascist mentality is the mentality of the subjugated “little man” who craves authority and rebels against it at the
    same time” W. Reich.

    • The comment on Strauss qualifies as random subjective assertion, and for that matter so does Reich’s observation. We could apply such descriptions to just about anyone, anywhere, at any time, under an intention to insult without actually engaging on the level of ideas.

      Anti-intellectualism is also a typically fascistic stance, and there’s never a shortage of it, especially among intellectuals.

      • Strauss did not write that in outer space, as a being outside the current of human history. He wrote it as a German Jew who supported the Nazis until it became clear that there would be no exceptions for him and as the intellectual inspiration for the nasty clowns of the neo-con movement. I don’t know how one can read that passage and not think of the pretensions of the Nazis and Neo-Cons to superior judgment and reason or to Heidigger’s bizarre post-war claim that “Concerning 1933: I expected from National Socialism a spiritual renewal of life in its entirety “. In 1933 – another intellectual intoxicated by sadism.

        As for the passage itself, like much of Strauss’s writing, exhibits this creepy longing for mastery. Strauss here is not discussing good writing by human beings, something that at best will be limited, flawed, and partially correct. Instead he fantasizes about The Master, stern, guided by reason “which knows how to persuade and which knows how to forbid”, disdainful, impatient- CONTROLLING. It’s 50 Shades of Gray for “intellectuals”.

        • 1. What basis do you have for the claim that Strauss “supported the Nazis”? The stray and self-demeaning comment regarding Strauss and the “national revolution” from Hannah Arendt, who had her own compromises to live down? The opinions of one or another professional Straussophobe?

          2. The “godfather of the neocons” material is mainly trite conspiracism pushed by amateurs, opportunists, and lunatics. Its main impetus in the popular press came from writers who likely never read more than a word of Strauss’s, and who appear to have been spoon-fed by LaRouchites. What the neocons actually are and represent is another question. Making the investigation worth the effort would first require locating or building a neocon argument that could be taken seriously. If they are merely “nasty clowns,” then why are they even worth discussing? I don’t mean that question merely rhetorically. Why do the neocons matter, and why is whatever they’re supposed to have derived from Strauss connected to it?

          3. There is no speech act and no act of judgment, including either of your comments here, or my responses, that does not imply a “pretension… to superior judgment and reason.” The accusation is an empty substitute for criticism – can’t even be called a criticism since it denies the possibility or possible point of criticism.

          4. If only Heidegger’s actions of 1933 and after could be ascribed merely to a personal error or pathology, then history would be much easier to cope with.

          5. In that single sentence from a much longer paragraph from a major work, Strauss is not “fantasizing” about “The Master,” he’s laying a predicate for an argument about Machiavelli, and, obviously, or I would think obviously, referring to the kind of writing that, whether you consider it a valid enterprise or not, has during diverse epochs been executed in light of purposes other than those defined purely by the fashion, commercial requirements, or politics of the moment. For better or worse, if we hope to understand a writer who might, or might not, still be read with profit centuries after he wrote, it may not be sufficient to apply methods more appropriate to blog posts and other diversions that no one will remember the next day.

          • ” If they are merely “nasty clowns,” then why are they even worth discussing? I don’t mean that question merely rhetorically. Why do the neocons matter, and why is whatever they’re supposed to have derived from Strauss connected to it?”

            There is nothing about being a nasty clown that makes one harmless. The moronic and hapless quality of Wolfowitz and Kristol’s thinking did not make them less dangerous to the people of Iraq. The confused nature of Stormfront ranting doesn’t mean that given the right circumstances they could not do a lot of damage.

            As for what the neo-cons got from Strauss, they are pretty much upfront about it. For example: http://reason.com/archives/2001/10/17/the-voice-of-neoconservatism

            • Being harmful or not is not the same thing as having an idea worth discussing, but we can set that aside.

              On the basis of testimony for Irving Kristol, according to a writer for a libertarian magazine, we learn that Strauss, or rather the Straussians, or rather certain neoconservatives among the Straussians, reached the novel conclusion that religion was politically important in America. Poor Leo strove all those years, translating from the Latin, Greek, and Arabic late into the night, so that unnamed neocons could attend church or synagogue for the sake of appearances.

              History!

              Kristol’s claims notwithstanding, the number of influential or theoretically influential students of Strauss or of students of his students has never been demonstrated to be remarkable. Anyway, it’s another very poor substitute for actually thinking things through to hold a first- or second-rate thinker responsible for the particular uses to which some fifth- or fourth-raters or a passel of ’em put some notion of his notions.

              But I’d still like to know why you feel justified in calling Strauss a “supporter of the Nazis.”

                • Good for you for withdrawing the calumny, but I’m not sure that the new version is precisely accurate. I think what’s supported by the record available to us – the full record – is that he was skeptical about liberal democracy in Germany surviving the threats to it. Was his skepticism unjustified? He was hostile to the Communists – do you blame him? Wilhelmine Germany with its intellectual freedoms and its treatment of secularized Jews especially in higher education and the arts must have seemed like a paradise compared to what was on the horizon, but it could not be restored, and had also proven inadequate.

                  I don’t blame him for going through an ambitious intellectual’s version of the five stages of grief over a very dark and doom-laden predicament, casting about for answers, and even seizing (in his mind) on “wrong” ones.

                    • You yourself are frequently to be found on Twitter making an argument effectively identical to Strauss’, or Schmitt’s, or CIcero’s (Strauss refers to reading Cicero, that great forerunner of rule-of-law liberalism) against lily-livered “progressives” and on behalf of President Obama and his exercise of his imperium, in the form of military command lawfully beyond the law, in relation to the drone campaign.

                    • The allusion to Virgil is also interesting, since its “Roman thought” is a passage from the Aeneid that can be translated in various ways, but, especially in conjunction with the reference Cicero, suggests a specific but complex idea regarding the purposes of authority at all, not some simple-minded statement of worship of power or some such.

  3. http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/06/hbc-90005094

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5010.htm

    and

    And, what concerns this matter: the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme(5) to protest against the shabby abomination.(6) I am reading Caesar’s Commentaries with deep understanding, and I think of Virgil’s Tu regere imperio… parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.(7) There is no reason to crawl to the cross, neither to the cross of liberalism, as long as somewhere in the world there is a glimmer of the spark of the Roman thought. And even then: rather than any cross, I’ll take the ghetto.
    — Strauss from http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/07/letter_16.html

    As for Strauss’s larger body of work, I confess to a lack of interest. I just note that this longing for/to-be an impatient and controlling master is something I have seen before in Strauss’s work and it strikes me as grotesque.

    • Both Horton pieces rely overly much on the frankly rather eccentric and self-contradictory work of Alan Gilbert. The Information Clearinghouse piece depends on the much-discussed, and shall we say controversial, Shadia Drury. On the other hand, there were some thoughtful and interesting comments in the Balkin discussion thread – like this rather even-handed one: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/07/letter_16.html?showComment=1153162320000#c115316232787814066

      Horton’s translation is amateurish, as Horton himself acknowledges, so getting the precise sense of Strauss’ call to deconstruct the Nazis via “the principles of the Right” is difficult, and I don’t really have the time right now to translate the notorious letter myself, especially for someone who professes a lack of interest in Strauss’s work and relies on an aesthetic or subjective reaction in combination with second- or third-hand, politically compromised opinions.

      To cut to the chase, the frequently encountered theme of the Noble Lie as Strauss’s gift to the Neocons is just about as insensately stupid, in my considered opinion, as the notion that the Muslims via taqiyya invented deception and dissimulation as tactics of war. As I noted in my longer piece on Strauss – https://ckmacleod.com/2012/06/09/the-mediocracy-vs-leo-strauss/ – the would-be defenders of the pristine honor of liberal democracy take their stand on the argument that simplistic and commonplace notions derived from the works of a long-deceased writer on the ancient and medieval classics diverted the politics and fate of the world’s leading liberal democracy, leading to catastrophe. What could be a stronger argument on in favor of Strauss’s less then perfect confidence in the form of government, than that it, through its apparently quite easily manipulable masses of voters, could be so easily subverted by a cabal of nasty clowns?

      In a way, a similar or parallel thing happened in Germany. Strauss, like the older and famous non-Jewish Heidegger and Schmitt, correctly detected the vulnerability of Weimar democracy, and struggled to locate a practical alternative. Schmitt virtually begged Hindenburg to invoke the Article of the Weimar Constitution allowing the democratically legitimate government to employ the armed forces against the threats posed by the so-called “negative parties” of the right and left. What happened instead is well-documented. Needless to say Weimar 1933 was as liberal democracies go in a much more vulnerable condition than Washington DC 2001 – and the War on Terror and the Financial Crisis fall rather short of WW2, the Holocaust, and the destruction of the nation. Strauss, as a Jew, did not have Schmitt’s and Heidegger’s options. If he had, he might very well have chosen to stay, and to “work from the inside.” It’s not just easy to say but historical fallacy in its most self-serving form to assume that, if we had been in their position, we would have made the “right” choice. It may be even more pretentious to think that our choices would have mattered very much.

      Whatever the 34-year-old Strauss thought about the right and what the the right meant or should have meant in a better world, the predominating theme in his work is something that our very busy blogging intellectuals cannot seem to cope with: that there may be valid human lives and ideals that don’t reduce to internet flame wars or to the pseudo-discussion of politics and economics that take up political campaigns in a liberal democracy. I think the one thing that Strauss would not have done that the likes of Kristol made careers out of doing was to put his political philosophical project at the center of ongoing controversies. One of his most clearly enunciated and forcefully argued positions was that the philosopher should enter the political arena only for the purpose of securing as great and safe a distance from it as possible.

      As for the Iraq War, a close reader of Thucydides and uncompromising critic of the Athenians at Melos should be considered a likely skeptic of democratic imperialism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melian_dialogue

      • I’m not arguing for Strauss as some sort of Evil Plotter – in fact, if he had stayed in Germany to learn about the virtues of Imperial Authority in some gas chamber the Neo-Cons would have found any number of other sources that fit their purpose. Ayn Rand perhaps lacked some academic cred, but that story of the elect that need to manage the rabble always has some adherents – hell, just take some Hermann Hesse and add latin. I just note that Strauss’s contempt for the rabble, his doctrine of the elect few and their esoteric knowledge, etc, was a nice purified right wing substitute for the Trotskyite Vanguardism that the first generation of neocons found to be no longer profitable or prestigious. Whether this is what Strauss intended is not something I have an opinion on.

        I do find Strauss’s writing style repellent all that secret meaning crap to be ridiculous. The claim in the fragment you cite is silly – just read Pericles speech in Thucydides – a brilliant speech that is slipshod and full of loose threads and clearly produced by someone who did not think that rhetorical tricks were beneath him. The speech that approaches perfection is fully human, poetic, often sentimental and often contradictory. The stern master impatiently and contemptuously barking out orders is a sad and creepy ideal. We’ve seen that story play out too many times. And it’s not that skepticism about Democratic systems is something unacceptable. What’s unacceptable is fascism, the self-appointed elect, the dictatorship of the savants (and who came up with that phrase – if we are going to be pedantic?), the idea that some group of nitwits from U. Chicago or anywhere else can consider the masses to be cattle or expendable chess pieces.

        • Actually if you read Kagan on Thucydides, you find from the sources he investigated, that he thought to hide Pericle’s role in the Pelopenessian debacle, and attribute it more to what he considered declasse figures like Cleon,

        • “Perfect” is not, as the familiar saying reminds us, the same as “good.” Nor is it “full” or “fully human” or necessarily humane. And the “stern master barking out orders” is not the the ideal writer guided by the reason that knows how to persuade and how to forbid. The stern master barking out orders would be an example of someone who in most cases manifestly lacks that knowledge. The “how” is subservient to reason, or as Strauss puts it just before the quoted sentence, to “so-called lexicographical necessity,” not to some individual “master,” whether the writer himself or some yearned-for master. The sternness – or gravity and aloofness – is a function of the subject matter, which would presumably be something of the highest significance, not a function of the willfulness or personality of the writer. For Machiavelli, for instance, the matter was the founding of “new modes and orders” of government and social-political life, which Machiavelli called the most difficult of all possible tasks.

          As for the question of esoteric writing, how do you form an opinion on “all that secret meaning crap” and “doctrine of the elect few and their esoteric knowledge” if you are not familiar with Strauss’s work? Why do you need to express such a strong opinion about something you apparently know little about? SInce you have no interest in Strauss, I won’t try to outline the argument for you. I’ll just point out two things: 1) Writers like al-Farabi, Locke, or Machiavelli discuss and give great prominence to examples of important writers or philosophers or other greatly admired individuals dissembling, often for reasons of personal safety; Locke goes so far as to explain, at some length, that Jesus Christ Himself systematically concealed his true opinions out of political necessity (and for the Very Best Reasons, of course). 2)The “elect few” capable of piecing together and doing something with the esoteric teaching were not very “elect” except by virtue of intellectual capacity. They would be the ones “with ears to hear,” not the ones in a position to chop off tongues. In every other way they were very often quite vulnerable or potentially vulnerable to political-religious powers. The demagogue and the tyrant do not figure favorably at all in Strauss’s work, and it’s part of his questioning of liberal democracy or modern mass democracy – the whole age of politics after Machiavelli – that it seems often, perhaps necessarily, to lose the ability to distinguish successfully between tyranny and authority, or between philosophy and polemic.

          • Actually Jesus’s political message was rather clear, hence ‘Render under Caesar’
            of course, Emperors were worshipped as gods, which made thing problematic.

            • Strauss mentions Locke’s statements on Christ’s apparent willingness to dissemble for the sake of political expediency in Natural Right and History (pp. 207-8). In The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke tried to cast Plato and Socrates as allies. Neither Strauss nor Locke but rather the Athenian assembly were the ones who found Socrates guilty of teaching the young to disrespect the gods. It’s Locke, not in this case primarily Strauss, who observes that Plato took cognizance of Socrates’ fate and adjusted his own political-philosophic practice accordingly. The thinker’s rationale for doing so is twofold, his own survival and the survival of his teaching. As for Locke himself, in addition to the ancient events, he would have had the dangers and difficulties encountered by Hobbes and by many lesser names in view.

              The quotations in the following passage from Natural Right and History are all Locke’s words:

              When speaking of Jesus’ “caution” or “reservedness” or his “concealing himself,” [Locke] says that Jesus used “words too doubtful to be laid hold on against him” or words “obscure and doubtful, and less liable to be made use of against him,” and that he tried “to keep himself out of the reach of any accusation, that might appear just or weighty to the Roman deputy.” Jesus “perplexed his meaning,” “his circumstances being such, that without such a prudent carriage and reservedness, he could not have gone through with the work which he came to do…. He so involved his sense, that it was not easy to understand him.” If he had acted differently, both the Jewish and the Roman authorities would “have taken away his life; at least they would have… hindered the work he was about.” In addition, if he had not been cautious, he would have created “manifest danger of tumult and sedition”; there would have been “room to fear that [his preaching the truth] should cause… disturbance in civil societies, and the governments of the world.” We see, then, that, according to Locke, cautious speech is legitimate if unqualified frankness would hinder a noble work one is trying to achieve or expose one to persecution or endanger the public peace; and legitimate caution is perfectly compatible with going with the herd in one’s outward professions or with using ambiguous language or with so involving one’s sense that one cannot be easily understood.

              The use that Strauss makes of this argument isn’t to read wholly bizarre or completely hidden ideas into Locke’s works, as though applying a chemical that reveals the secret instructions in invisible ink, or performing a seance, but simply to understand Locke – or Al-Farabi, or Machiavelli, or Plato, or anyone else writing under censorship or other real constraints – more comprehensively and in context.

                • I typed out the blockquoted passage from Natural Right and History, contemplating future possible uses, but I now see that, if you take a hunk of it and Google it, you’ll turn up a bunch of places where it’s available in whole or more or part.

          • For the first, I have been struck by that tone in Strauss before – it seems consistent with the longing for unrestrained authority (and unrestrained power) that is common on the right. If you don’t see it – fine. I’m not suggesting this observation as a summary of his life’s work.

            For the second: Locke is attempting to elucidate the meaning of what he believes to be divine revelation. But Plato and Machiavelli are not God – their contradictions, lapses, confusions, are most likely to be explained by their status as people. As a philological or historical exercise, extracting some hidden messages may be of interest, but this has a conclusive weight in understanding politics/philosophy much in the same way that numerology has for those who do not have faith in the divine origin of the text,

            BTW: those interested in Machiavelli might want to find out about Zhuge Liang, the Legalists, and other Chinese political theory/strategy in which the issues of e.g. establishing the authority of a new regime are treated extensively and often very perceptively.

            • You could say, “I really don’t know how Strauss actually develops his arguments, so I’ll just withhold judgment.” Instead, you’re engaging in the kind of conduct you like to ridicule when it’s some “progressive” on treasury policy or on some other subject which you acknowledge an interest in getting right. Your first and overriding commitment is to your prejudices, to be held immune from anyone else’s non-conforming thoughts, whether Strauss’s, my own, or anyone else’s. I’m not sure there’s more to be said on the subject at this point.

  4. Judge all of Strauss’s work, by one letter in 1933, forgetting that any number of philosophers like George Bernard Shaw, and even this fellow, was taken in a much later time;

    http://business.highbeam.com/434953/article-1G1-57513456/web-du-bois-nazi-germany-surprising-prescient-visitor

    Now the Baath, which still rules the roost in Syria, was the Arab import by Aflaq of Fascism, with a little communism thrown in for flavoring, of course, the most diligent opposition, against them, is as was put forth in another context, another kind of evil’
    that is Salafi and Wahhabism,

  5. He is exceedingly dense, the problem is any notion of a sensible center right regime, went by the wayside when Hugenberg fell,
    they were running through a musical chairs of old Junkers like Von Papen, and the like, at this point, the postmaster would eventually become chancellor. Of course, there is a certain category error in comparing events then to 2001, among other things, the Nazis were waging a paramilitary campaign on the remains of the Government, and they were inadvertently aided
    by Stalin, because he wanted the Social Democrats out,

    • Yes – the Stalinists and the Nazis were the “negative parties” who participated in the bourgeois parliamentary system under the more or less open intention to subvert, destroy, and replace it. The pattern has frequently recurred around the world, whenever a candidate or party seeks to exploit and widen whatever gap between actual popular will and whatever mere forms of democratic rule. There’s an an aroma of it in attacks on Obama from the right and on the Republicans from the left. In point of fact, much Tea Party and hard right critique is “negative” toward the existing American regime, not just toward the Obama government, in this sense.

      The comparison to 2001 is simply to point out a parallel critique. The anti-Neocons express dismay over Strauss’s suspected insufficient appreciation for democracy, as expressed in the ’30s, when their critique of the vulnerabilities of liberal democracy in relation to America is even more deprecatory.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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