I have one word: Do not fight them on their terms. They are our Achilles-Nemesis. They seek the arena of single combat, of mano-a-mano, of sacrifice and supplication. Do not let them dictate to us their passionate Homeric battlefield, for these reasons:

We will lose that battle, in the act of losing ourselves.

We are civilization, which is a precious creation only ours to lose.

Let us not go into battle against Achilles then, as “Hector slayer of men” — but rather as the true sons and daughters of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.

Vlahos seeks a contrast between ourselves and the Greeks of the Heroic Age, or the Greeks of the Heroic Age as depicted in Homer, but that second difference, between history and fiction rather than putatively between us and them, presents problems, since Achilles and Hector may have only as much, or less, to do with the men who fought on either side during the destruction of ancient Troy as John Rambo had to do with the soldiers who fought, one suspects more often in uniform than stripped down to muscle Ts, in Vietnam.

The idea that 3,000 years of technological and social-political progress, or civilization, separate us essentially rather than merely outwardly from our actually barbaric progenitors, may have a stronger foundation in vanity than in proof, and Vlahos himself produces ample counter-evidence for his own thesis, not least in his concluding lines – unless we are somehow to imagine that the stature in American national lore of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt has nothing do with their having commanded armies of, as we still say, “supreme sacrifice” – and finally glorious lethality. I won’t commit the civil blasphemy of comparing any of them to Ibrahim ibn Awwad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ali ibn Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or of comparing our own “Special” man-killers to the sociopathic performance artists of Daesh, but in the end as in the beginning, no matter how many layers of technology, law, and self-flattering discourse are placed between the “sharp end of the spear” and the vast majority of us, the call to kill and die remains absolute in relation to the one who kills or dies, and no republic nor any other civilization arises or survives independently without being able to summon that which, from the perspective of any individual, cannot be reasonably supplied, a readiness very precisely to “lose oneself,” or to discover one’s own mortality and mortality itself as not simply any single individual’s possession to save or lose.

We have discussed before the claim that the Iliad should be understood as designed to produce the very revulsion evident in Vlahos’ post and that Vlahos seeks to turn to his own purposes, with the Trojan War to be understood already as “The War that Killed Achilles,” the title of Caroline Alexander’s re-reading and re-consideration of the Iliad (linked here to Amazon, which most of us including its founders probably persist in thinking was named for a river), but for the sake of that turning away we never turn away completely. If we are “true sons and daughters” of our glorious father-commanders – “true” sons and daughters, not mere descendants but recognizably heirs – then we are true sons and daughters of sacrifice, as commemorated not just in our own heroic monuments done in the ancient, eternalizing style, but in the “the world’s most iconic building,” a tribute in stone to Western civilization at its hallowed origins, depicting in its own time and as far as we know for all time, or at least so the case is persuasively made, the myth of a family insisting on its right to sacrifice itself for the city’s god.

As for our Achilles-Nemesis, what reason is there to believe, along with apparently the professor, that it is our decision alone, or within anyone’s ability, to define the fight in some essentially different way, and still to fight at all?

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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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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