Commenter Archive

On “…lost the habit

Thanks for your reply. I'd completely forgotten about Filmer's Patriarcha, against which Locke's first treatise is directed--that supplies a "thinker" for the English Restoration. But my concentration on the technical question of "which Restoration" was indeed misplaced. Surely what matters for the sake of grappling with the sentence in question is just the idea of "restoration" itself. Correlative to that mistaken emphasis was my neglect of the surrounding passage in which the sentence is placed.

We might amplify the comparison of the ancients to the early moderns a bit and say that the idea which mediates between the ancient binary "Socrates/sophists" and the early modern binary "restorationists/revolutionists" is the conflict between democracy and its alternative. Granted that Strauss seemingly casts doubt on the aptness of the analogy, the question remains whether he is dubious of the analogy in whole or only in part--or even at all, seeing that the concluding paragraph of the essay "On the Euthydemus" embeds a certain paradox: it categorically denies the idea of a "mortal enmity" between philosophy and sophism and, in the very next sentence, reaffirms the notion so forcefully as can be.

The theme of Socrates as a representative of anti-democratism--and thus having a conceptual connection to the early modern monarchists--is too well-attested to be easily refuted. I.F Stone's book on Socrates is a perfect example, and I'm aware of an instance where the trope can be found in the Straussian literature: namely, Allan Bloom's essay "The Political Philosopher in Democratic Society: The Socratic View". (I'm not suggesting you read that essay, but for reference' sake it can be found in the anthology The Roots of Political Philosophy.) Strauss himself strongly endorses that prong of the aforesaid analogy in the final sentence of his essay. Left open is the prospect of skepticism regarding firstly the alleged affinity of ancient sophists and early modern democratists, and secondly the idea that to align Socrates and the early modern reactionaries is to preclude the further possibility of relating Socrates to the modern radicals. The several depictions of Socrates by Rousseau, Hamann, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Strauss demonstrate the capaciousness of the Socratic persona.

What's arresting about Strauss's essay "On the Euthydemus" is not so much his contention that Socrates was more friendly disposed to the sophists than we are "inclined" to believe, as that he is friendly disposed to the sophists in view in that dialogue--the brothers Euthydemus and Dionysodoros. For they are sophists of the very worst sort, the end of whose instruction is to teach their pupils how to win any argument whatever by having recourse to the most outrageous of means. Their methods are so absurd, trampling underfoot every canon of logic and fairness, that their speeches invariably possess a farcical quality. Yet straightway after Strauss makes reference to "the thinkers who prepared the French Revolution or took its side", he says: "In the Euthydemus Socrates takes the side of the two brothers..."

Might Strauss's essay conceivably reflect a burlesque aspect of the dialogue? Does he rhetorically parallel the brothers and the French Revolution in order to ridicule the latter? And by aligning Socrates with the brothers in that parallelism is he somehow implying that Socratism itself had a paradoxical share in "preparing"--or taking the side of--the French Revolution? (The Socrates of Rousseau's first discourse and the Socrates of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, each in their own way, are I think compatible with that conjecture.)

Strauss continues: "Socrates was not the mortal enemy of the sophists nor were the sophists the mortal enemies of Socrates." In the next and concluding sentence, however, he invokes the customary figure of the sophist as the enemy of philosophy (and given the context, the enmity is assuredly mortal): "According to Socrates, the greatest enemy of philosophy, the greatest sophist, is the political multitude, i.e. the enactor of the Athenian laws." The paradox is perhaps resolved by understanding "the greatest enemy of philosophy, the greatest sophist" as the deployment of the sophist trope in a wholly figurative sense, regardless of the historical sophists themselves. And the gratuitous reference to "the enactor of the Athenian laws" brings to sight, if not quite to sound, the democratic regime of Athens. It is left to the reader to draw the momentous conclusion that democracy--the regime whereby "the people" rule--is philosophy's greatest enemy "[a]ccording to Socrates", according to Strauss.

"

Like you, I think first of the English Restoration, but I can also see why you might wonder if he had the Bourbon Restoration in mind. I don't believe I read that essay, or, if I did, I didn't read it closely. I've now read the ending of it. I'll note that the essay ends by uniting Socrates and sophists against a more serious enemy, the multitude.

Maybe the real problem for me is that I'm not someone who has been much inclined to think one way or the other about the conflicts between Socrates and the sophists, or "the sophists." In other words I don't possess any such habitual inclination regarding either group of "Restoration" thinkers as opposed to "the thinkers who prepared the French Revolution or took its side." I'm more inclined to think of Locke and Hobbes - thinkers of the period, if not necessarily thinkers of restoration - as each in his own way more as preparing than as conflicting, but maybe that's my own bias.

In any event Strauss appears to me to be cautioning against mapping modern conflicts onto this particular ancient one. So, that might be what it has to do with Strauss and the Sophists: nothing. Regardless of which group of Restorationists you might think he was referring to, the larger point seems to be in fact that it shouldn't really matter, if your goal is to understand the ancients.

"

Speaking of Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, may I request your help in interpreting a puzzling sentence therein? It is the first sentence of the last paragraph of the essay "On the Euthydemus":

We are still too much inclined to see the conflict between Socrates and "the sophists" in the light of the conflict between the thinkers of the Restoration and the thinkers who prepared the French Revolution or took its side.

As to "the thinkers who prepared the French Revolution or took its side", that would presumably include Rousseau and the philosophes and even Tom Paine--that much is clear to me. However, when I hear "the Restoration" I intuitively think of the restoration of the Stuarts in the aftermath of Cromwell--in which case I'm not at all certain who "the thinkers" affiliated therewith would be--but there is also "the Restoration" of the Bourbons in the aftermath of Napoleon, and if that were "the Restoration" in view then I suppose the affiliated thinkers would include de Maistre u.s.w., and possibly even Burke.

What's your take--which "restoration" and its "thinkers" are we talking about? And what's it all got to do with Socrates and the sophists?

"

actually, I've never subscribed to any blog - comments yes, but not to posts. I just visit the blogs I find interesting as I surf. eventually I fell out the habit here.

at any rate, the day after our last emailing karen came down with a very covid-y illness that was on the cusp of alarming ie she could breathe. at the time the protocols in place here didn't allow for testing such cases. I also had something similar but milder so until the past few days I've been doing all the cooking and household stuff, which is a lot for me cognitively. so while karen seems fully recovered, I am still recovering from cognitive exhaustion.

still I would welcome more substantive efforts from you than random tv observations, and tweets do me no good at all since I don't participate in any of the social media platforms.

I'm guessing once you get rolling it'll be fine, although probably different from what you remember. the vapid observations most offer is thin gruel at best. so if it helps, be sure that if you write, I will comment

"

Hello, Mr. M.

Last year/in another age, I'd put up the two posts you mention to note two theories of the presidential race, though in part I was also just checking the functionality of a set of tools in use at the site.

I'd always thought the Democrats or the center-left or some coalition of the "had-enough-already" ought to be favored in 2020, in part because I've also always believed that the Trump presidency had to reach catastrophe sooner or later, but I had begun to wonder if it might not have to be a second-term catastrophe.

The post I imagine I would have written would have been a perhaps premature attempt, a perhaps always and inevitably premature attempt, to explore the non-randomness of the catastrophe we finally got - so, as the workings of necessity, and therefore the opposite of mere "chance."

As for reading, for the last two years, or so, I've been too focused on work to have eye-time left over for books or writing - or blogging. Hard to say much more on this subject without descending into self-sentimentality.

I'll say though that Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy is one of my favorite collections. You might follow it up with https://www.amazon.com/Strauss-Theologico-Political-Problem-European-Philosophy/dp/0521699452, if you haven't run across it already. Meier counts as one of Strauss' most sympathetic interpreters, and he also calls upon his study of Strauss' unpublished works and notes, adding special interest for us amateur Straussers.

Or did we already discuss Meier's Strauss years ago. I fergit.

"

CKM: I think it would be a singular misfortune--to himself and his audience--if a thinker and writer possessed of such substantive and stylistic gifts as you are were to have "lost the habit" for good, and so it goes without saying--...

I was hoping we'd continue the brief exchange we began last year. When last we met, we were debating the merits of a piece by one Mr. Spencer who fervently asserted that left of center parties had an opportunity to reap bountiful electoral harvests if only they would nominate candidates of an especially "progressive", not to say Bolshevik, stripe. Since then, some events transpired that have a bearing on that thesis.

In the case of the UK parliamentary election, Labour attempted to carry forward Spencer's proposal with admirable fidelity and suffered a humiliating defeat, while the triumphant Conservatives were led--as Joe Biden remarked at the time--by a veritable clone of Donald Trump. Here in the USA, in the Democratic Party primaries, we saw Bernie Sanders fail to reduplicate the momentum of his 2016 run, and Elizabeth Warren's candidacy was an embarrassing flop.

Having said that, the corona virus crisis surely changes everything and I can't help but think that the enormous economic dislocations that will almost certainly result suddenly favor the Democrats and even perhaps their most "progressive" current. It's a case study in the power of chance in human affairs. And while I sincerely pray for our country to be delivered from the ill effects of this ordeal, I fear that it brings us perilously close to the brink of one mode of national bankruptcy or another...

I've read a number of interesting books in the domain of political philosophy recently, mostly in the "Straussian" vein--including a couple of books by Leo Strauss himself: namely, Liberalism Ancient and Modern and Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy. At my age, I find that reading Strauss constitutes the peak of my pleasure in reading. Only the Bible and poetry rival it. I've even begun to imagine that I've transferred my philosophical fealty such as it is from "existentialism" broadly construed (a school of thought ultimately rooted in Hamann, I guess) to Straussianism, the attempt to recuperate the viability of classical perspectives (especially the virtue of sophrosune)--and as a corollary, to assist in the revitalization of theological perspectives as the necessary competitors of philosophy against which philosophy attains self-definition...

How 'bout you--read anything interesting lately?

Well, just thought I'd chime in...

On “"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber

This is fascinating. Where in "Indecent" were the lyrics used? Were they sung with Ilse Weber's Wiegala melody?

I will be giving the pre-concert lecture to Princeton Pro-Musica's performance of Annelies by James Whitbourn, on March 15, 2020. I would like to know as much as I can about this melody. Was the melody pre-existing and new lyrics ascribed as was common during the period?

"

We are about to stage 'Indecent' at the Menier Chocolate Factory theatre in London. Rehearsals begin on Monday (Feb 2020), so I was doing some research on the music before we begin, and found your post.

On “Exterminating the Non-Breaking Space Bug

I hadn't thought of that type of application of the code. The last time I tested for the bug, several months ago, it no longer seemed to be a problem.

"

I just want to thank you, both for the code and thorough explanation. I had been driven nuts for months by extra (ampersand)nbsp; being inserted into WordPress posts when pasting content from MS Word. Now when saving WP posts as draft, they are scrubbed out. I am grateful for the time saved, now and in the future.

On “Keith Spencer: …data shows that a centrist Democrat would be a losing candidate – Salon.com

Can't say I cared much either, but Spencer's text was such a blatant piece of propaganda that I felt the appropriate response was ridicule. He doesn't really "describe" an "electorate bifurcated along class lines, etc." but rather supposes it--allegedly on the basis of Piketty's authoritative masterpiece of a report--and, of course, that supposition happily affirms his pre-existing commitment to what can adequately be summarized as Trotskyism. It's a joke.

On the other hand, one can't help but wonder if this isn't an early outrider in the genre of crafting a narrative to be deployed in the event the Democrats lose the 2020 election. In this instance, the author would be proposing that said narrative take the form that the explanation for the loss ought to be that the Democratic nominee was insufficiently Trotskyist. Again, 'tis silly stuff.

"

Can't say I care much about Spencer's strengths or weaknesses as a polemicist or political strategist - just wanted to note the description of a modern electorate bifurcated along class lines rather than arranged across a spectrum or gradient, and the argument that this bifurcation or its resiliency shows up significantly in voting data.

On “Eli Zaretsky: Trump’s Charisma – LRB Blog

I guess I've always found sociology more descriptive than explanatory. so charisma in the Weber sense seems to be more of a property of the masses which we as observers project onto the leader. I recall a phrase from The Invisible Man in which the narrator says something about the masses "throwing up" their leaders.

I not sure I've got this right, but the observation/explanation distinction of sociology may have been made nicely by the Officer Krupke number in West Side Story, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7TT4jnnWys

On “Keith Spencer: …data shows that a centrist Democrat would be a losing candidate – Salon.com

"The Republican Party has earned a reputation as the anti-science, anti-fact party"

One third of the way in to Mr. Spencer's first sentence--and we know immediately we're reading a piece of the utmost sobriety...

Spencer's piece is essentially an argument from authority--in this case, the authority of "data", indeed "hard data", and even (breathtakingly) "mounds of data"; helpfully compiled for us by that superstar of contemporary data-driven social "science", Thomas Piketty. Though it's wisely, if not perhaps widely, understood that contemporary data-driven social "science" is an enterprise of unimpressive stature, Spencer's affection for it is--shall we say--affecting.

So, Spencer’s point--on the authority of Piketty’s "mounds of data"--is that, if the Democrats will only nominate a candidate of Trotskyite persuasion, then he/she/zhe will obtain a sweeping victory. Speaking as one whose socialism tends to the "false consciousness" Straßerite variety, I hope they’ll do so. Let’s conduct the experiment and see if Piketty’s right...

I shan't belabor further my annoyance with Spencer's drivel, except to address en passant the only curiosity that emerged as I read it--namely, the strange phenomenon of apparently bona fide and old-time socialism in the state of Oklahoma. Well, what can one say--except that the denizens of Oklahoma haven't exactly earned a reputation for wisdom of a political or any other kind, now have they?

On “Eli Zaretsky: Trump’s Charisma – LRB Blog

As you know, it's been a while since I've been active in these parts. I just fell victim to some issues for an un-tended blog, and my longer and incredibly incisive etc. reply to you, Mr. McKenzie, was voided. For all I know, some draft of it may have reached you or bob in an email, but I suspect not...

I'll summarize it as follows: I don't think you give Zaretsky credit for being as careful in his statements and assumptions as he is - more careful than you are, and especially regarding what we mean or ought to mean when we use words like "Americans" and, in this specific instance, when we argue about what "Americans" think or feel or have decided or might decide. As for the rest, see my reply to bob, the newest "Noted and Quoted" as of this comment, and things to come. The gods or God or the masses or the mass-God or -gods or or or and America or Americans may not be all out of tricks.

"

Well, Happy 4th nine days later to you, bob. I accidentally surfed to CNN while that fellow was on, found myself as confounded as ever that there are so many people able to tolerate him - just on aesthetic grounds - and moved on before the sentence was done.

Weber understands "charisma" - whose modern usage he invented - as a collective and cooperative realization, as much bestowal (by the masses) as expression of innate qualities. The pre-existing definition of charisma refers to a divinely conferred gift - so also a bestowal.

Donald Trump is found and thus made charismatic by a critical mass of masses, and, if I acknowledge that he's charismatic, I'm not saying that I find his magic working on me in the sense of putting me on his side, only that I can see the magic working, or the finding-making happening, and think I can understand why and how.

Zaretsky via Weber also gets at why Trump is so much better on a debate stage or at one of his rallies, since in the former setting his ruthless aggressiveness, un-dimmable self-confidence, joyful combativeness, amor fati - his spirited-ness (thymos) - make him seem a foot taller than even an outstandingly talented and experienced conventional politician (Rubio, Cruz, even HRC), while in the latter setting he enjoys an intimate, unalloyed connection with those predisposed already to adore him and in adoring him exalt themselves. To observe or interrupt the latter feels like and arguably is a stumbling-upon upon acquaintances shamelessly making love in a semi-public place.

...and this does all bear on the question of how the Ds might best fight him. Even if we could somehow agree on a return-to-normalcy, make-politics-boring-again alternative, we'd end up attributing some form of charisma, even an anti-charisma charisma, to the nominee.

"

happy 4th.

presumably we'll get to see that fellow's charisma on full display tonight.

for me, however time induced hazily it may be, that fellow calls to mind Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism, relying on, as I think I recall, authoritarian child rearing practices. Writ large, the petty tyrannies usually played out in the family become compelling politics to enough of the populace.

in this way the charisma of O and that fellow differ fundamentally in the family dynamics they echo.

glad to see even just a reposting here. hope if portends more.

to the grill!

"

"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."

I think the naivety of supposing that anyone--anyone at all--can at this juncture bring to pass "a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking" almost goes without saying--let alone that anyone in the current slate of Democratic candidates could perform such an Archimedean task. The sort of comprehensive transformation of "America’s way of thinking" that Mr. Zaretsky advocates presupposes a unitary something that is "America". "America" is irremediably divided against itself--ever-increasingly by rival ethnic and racial blocs, though no division surpasses that between the white bohemian bourgeoisie and the white working class.

"Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion."

Here the author evinces the flaw that vexes most contemporary political commentary; namely, the casual assumption that one's own political/ethno-racial faction is "America" simpliciter--in this case, the "progressive" white and Jewish bohemian bourgeoisie whose "self-respect" is so closely "linked to social justice and inclusion". But "social justice and inclusion" are euphemisms of a factional political ideology that, though widely influential among America's ruling elite, is mostly detested outside the confines of said elite and its bobo fellow travelers.

I'll give Zaretsky some credit. Despite his predictable anti-Trump stance, his piece does represent a stab at relatively sober political analysis. I think the contention that "...Trump’s ‘insecurity’, his unending struggle with those who question his legitimacy, is integral to his charisma" is a valuable insight. One wonders, however, if his recourse to Freudianism doesn't fatally undermine his argument. For example, Zaretsky is quite clear that both Donald Trump and Barack Obama are "charismatic" figures--in fact, he asserts that Obama is possessed of an even greater charisma than Trump. Thus his analysis cum critique of Trump on the line of Weberian "charisma" must apply equally well to Obama. Mark the following passage:

"Freud showed in his book on mass psychology that in democratic societies the charismatic bond may rest on an appeal to frustrated or unfulfilled narcissism. The followers idealise the leader as they once – in childhood – idealised themselves. Etc."

Overlooking the dubious character of Freudian psychology, this is obviously intended to be a criticism of Trump-as-political-phenomenon; but mutatis mutandis it must be true of Obama and his supporters as well. Zaretsky tries to overcome this contradiction by suggesting that some charismatic leaders--presumably including Obama--appeal to their supporters' good sides while other charismatic leaders--like Trump--appeal to their supporters' bad sides, but that badly begs the question and ultimately reduces Zaretsky's piece to a factional rhetorical exercise.

The real issue here is that whereas Trump is possessed of a genuine "charisma"--for good or ill--Obama was just another establishmentarian pol. His veneer of charisma had everything to do with the fact that American whites are programmed to feign receptivity toward blacks, and in Obama--as Joe Biden so gamely put it--they had finally found a "clean and articulate" black to lionize. Obama went on to govern, not as a charismatic leader of course, but rather as a "pragmatic manager"--as Zaretsky admits. The choice before the U.S. electorate in 2020 won't be between rival visions of charismatic leadership. It will feature instead a charismatic and disruptive figure--Donald Trump--and a yet to be determined uncharismatic Democrat who will seek to continue, and perhaps intensify, a long-established mode of governance. Electorates in democracies throughout the world (see, for example, the recent election in India) are more and more disaffected by the latter prospect.

On “"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber

My pleasure.

Agree about the song, though I think the "haunting" aspect mostly comes from the historical context, as I discussed way back when, also a bit reminiscent of the effect when a movie psycho-killer likes to hum or whistle a certain tune. I think almost any song, but lullabies especially, are vulnerable to that, "gone to sleep" being a common if not universal euphemism for "died."

I'd never heard of Asch's and Vogel's works, and glad to know about them.

"

Thank you. I know I have "orphan pages" on my website many broken links and even the "blog" of my mother's letters home to Germany in the mid 1930s has broken links to YouTubes of trailers from the movies and radio broadcasts she mentions in her letters. You remind me that I should clean those up.

This song is so haunting. Our book group just finished reading two versions of Sholom Asch's "God of Vengeance" and Vogel's new play "Indecent" which retells the history of Asche's play and uses the lyrics to great effect in crucial scenes.

"

This post (almost ten years old!) was from a discontinued blog, but it turns out I still had the MP3 file in the archives. So the above link should now function. I purchased the file for I think around a dollar back in 2009.

I also found a version on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNMziun2QMA

"

The audio track does not play.

I have found other versions on YouTube but I would love to hear this one. Do you have another link?

Thank you for your thoughtful essay.

On “The Video of Our Moment – This is America

You filled out your email address as a "mail.com" not "gmail.com." I edited the comment just above, and it's now showing the gravatar associated with the latter, if that's what you mean.

Could also explain not receiving notification emails. However, I might switch to a new tool for those anyway, if I decide to take up blogging again.

There's certainly no shortage of material out there, but a lot of it is just the same old sloppy thinking.

Some philosophy teacher on Twitter said he told his new students that he could teach them to win arguments for all the rest of their lives, with the only downside being that no one would ever know.

"

btw I didn't get the confirmation email and it wasn't in spam. also my icon didn't show up here so if you do restart blogging cld be worth fixing, otherwise just random glitches between the nets.

"

Don't know whether I'll start blogging again, or why exactly this video led me to post again after such a long hiatus.

Not sure why you would or wouldn't get rap/hip-hop, but this video is as much a movie, a little piece of Gesamtkunstwerk. That it's to me the video of our moment doesn't mean it's a good or enjoyable video, necessarily, but I think it probably is. I threw in the CMM mash-up because within a couple of days of my offhand remark, the thing was coming in over the twitter transom.

These two pieces might help you get why if not necessarily get it.

Wired: https://t.co/SvDgglha6e

New Yorker: https://t.co/LEQeSatCY0

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