ARBITRARY POWER, THAT IS:

Against power: As a republican, Sophie de Grouchy argued that sympathy, not domination, must be the glue that holds society together (Sandrine Bergèsis, Aeon)


The Letters on Sympathy, Grouchy’s only known, and signed, authored work, were published in 1798 as an appendix to her translations of the final edition of Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1792) and of his essay A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages (1792). These remained the standard translations of Smith’s key works for two centuries. Consequently, Grouchy’s Letters on Sympathy remained in wide circulation too, and were able to influence the growth of political ideas. […]

But for fuller evidence of her more radical views, we need to turn to the newspaper she founded together with Condorcet, Paine and others: Le Républicain. Published in 1791, the journal included anonymous articles by Grouchy and her translations of some of Paine’s work. She became known as a ‘fierce’ republican, and, not surprisingly, as an anti-monarchist she was mocked and caricatured in royalist journals.

In one of these articles, Grouchy attacked monarchy as an economic extravagance, and at the same time showed that it served no purpose beyond a ceremonial one by proposing that the king and his entourage be replaced by automata. Given the cost of the real ‘moving sculptures’ and the difficulty of producing and maintaining them in good working order, the claim that automata would represent a significant cost-saving was a direct attack on royal extravagance. But more than an economic cost, it was the psychological cost of monarchy that Grouchy was most worried about. In the second article (which she may have redrafted from an earlier one by her friend Dumont), Grouchy took on a theme she developed in her Letters on Sympathy: the moral and psychological cost of domination, the kind of domination characteristic of monarchy.

Being dominated is the chief and most pervasive political harm for republicans, because, Grouchy argues, it removes our liberty. In this, republicans differ somewhat from liberals, who see liberty threatened by interference. To be dominated is not necessarily the same thing as being interfered with. Being dominated means being subject to an arbitrary power that has the potential to interfere at any point in time. Grouchy argues that a king who is unconstrained by the law always dominates. Even a benign king who does not wish to interfere with his subjects’ personal lives dominates. Louis XVI insisted that he cared above all about the happiness of his subjects, yet his power over them was unregulated by law, and therefore arbitrary and dominating in this sense. And, given that a king’s attitude may change over the course of his reign, and that he will, one day, be replaced by his heir, his benevolence cannot be relied on to prevent future harms from interference. So, the king’s character does not make a difference to whether we should accept rule by monarchs: they still dominate, no matter how well meaning.

MAGA!:

Inventing Hindu supremacy: Vinayak Savarkar ridiculed Gandhi, preaching that anti-Muslim violence was the only means to unite India into a nation (Mihir Dalalis, 2/27/24, Aeon)


To understand Narendra Modi’s India, it is instructive to grasp the ideas of the Hindu Right’s greatest ideologue, the world of British colonial India in which they emerged, and the historical feebleness of the present regime.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a polymath who read law in London, enjoyed Shakespeare, admired the Bible, wrote important historical works, and became an accomplished poet and playwright. His lifelong obsession was politics.

Savarkar took up political activity in his teens and became a cherished anti-British revolutionary. While serving a long prison sentence for inciting violence against the British, he transformed into a Hindu supremacist bent on dominating Indian Muslims. His pamphlet Essentials of Hindutva (1923), written secretively in jail, remains the most influential work of Hindu nationalism. In this and subsequent works, he called for Hindus, hopelessly divided by caste, to come together as one homogeneous community and reclaim their ancient homeland from those he considered outsiders, primarily the Muslims. Savarkar advocated violence against Muslims as the principal means to bind antagonistic lower and upper castes, writing:

Nothing makes Self conscious of itself so much as a conflict with non-self. Nothing can weld peoples into a nation and nations into a state as the pressure of a common foe. Hatred separates as well as unites.


Savarkar has proven prescient if not prescriptive. Over the past four decades, the Hindu Right’s violence against Muslims has indeed helped Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to cement a degree of Hindu political unity long considered unattainable.

ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE:

Liberalism’s last laugh: The fate of democracy could well depend on what makes us smile. (Lee Siegel, 2/21/24, New Statesman)


Surely Sunstein is aware of liberalism’s dour reputation? Liberalism’s current comedic tribunes, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and the recently resurrected Jon Stewart, are far better at scolding and taunting than making actual jokes. In fact, Donald Trump’s most consequential contribution to popular culture is to offer a punchline, the mere utterance of which – “Trump” – requires no joke to precede it.

I wonder what the great liberal philosopher Judith Shklar would have made of comedy today. She wrote in 1982 that our “abiding cruelty is as evident in the horrors of civil war as it is in the pleasures of laughter” and observed that most people “enjoy a good laugh at the expense of victims”. In the current crop of late-night comedians’ jokeless taunting she might well have detected a strong echo of Trump’s own belittling laughter.

Shklar’s powerful notion of “putting cruelty first” is at the heart of cancel culture. Or as the American philosopher Richard Rorty parsed Shklar’s phrase: “Liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do.” Rorty himself attempted to appropriate irony for humane purposes by formulating the concept of “liberal irony”, in which people are aware of the moral tension between shifting personal and historical circumstances and a universal commitment to humanity. It’s a uselessly beautiful idea. But it’s definitely not funny.

It is unlikely that Sunstein is thinking about Shklar or Rorty in his gesture of defiance in the face of anti-laughter forces. But he is pushing back against the effect that an obsession with social justice has had on comedy, which is precisely to judge comedy by its capacity to be cruel. He is thinking about the outrage directed at the comedian Dave Chappelle’s offensive remarks about trans people, and at countless similar barbs made by other comedians in the spirit, or the performance, of mordant humour. Laughter is the sound of freedom and joy, Sunstein wants to say. And liberals, true liberals, who are not in thrall to woke excesses, do not repress freedom and joy.

The utopianism of the Left/Right deprives them of access to humor.

PAYING IT FORWARD:

THE BILL YANCEY EXPERIENCE (Dave Kaplan, February 28, 2024, Ball9)

At 76, Larry Hisle is one of baseball’s revered elders, a soft-spoken sage who has empowered at-risk children and troubled teens in the Milwaukee area over the last three decades.

Mentoring young people, helping them conquer personal hardship and self-doubt remains his inner passion. Actually, Hisle’s well-known strength in kindness recalls his own long-ago mentor.

“I can’t help but smile whenever I think of Bill Yancey,” said Hisle, who played 14 productive seasons with the Phillies, Twins and Brewers before retiring in 1982. “The man could not have been more encouraging, more motivating, more inspiring to me.”

Hisle, who grew up an orphan in southern Ohio, was once an insecure rookie with the Phillies, a team flaring with racial tensions. He lived alone and suffered acute anxiety and hepatitis.

Enter Bill Yancey, a genial veteran of the Negro Leagues in the 1920s and ‘30s, and later a pioneering Black major-league scout in the 1950s. He had just returned to his native Philadelphia in spring 1969 for his second stint as a Phillies area scout.

Yancey, who navigated racism and structural unfairness his entire life, saw in Hisle a fragile young man who’d been the target of a Ku Klux Klan rally in the minors. He saw a potential casualty to the racism that ultimately victimized Dick Allen, the franchise’s first Black star.

So he invited Hisle to live with him and his wife in their Moorestown, NJ house that season. Hisle savored Louise Yancey’s home cooking, and her husband’s unshakable lessons in resilience. Yancey’s guidance, he said, probably saved his career.

BEAUTY IS OBJECTIVE:

We Built Ugly Churches and Still Do Not Attract Young People: How Is This Possible?
(ITXU DÍAZ, February 16, 2024, American Spectator)

[B]eyond grace, if anything moves the affections of man, if anything can lead our feelings toward God, it is the aesthetics. There is an official liturgy, to avoid abuses and doctrinal errors, to guarantee respect for the Holy Sacrament, but also so that we learn to approach God, not only with the soul, but also with the senses. Beauty is paramount. St. John Paul II wrote about it in his 1999 Letter to Artists:

In perceiving that all he had created was good, God saw that it was beautiful as well. The link between good and beautiful stirs fruitful reflection. In a certain sense, beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty.

If the aesthetic and the emotional were not important, they would not have been a priority target of the enemies of God in postmodern times.

THE OPEN QUESTION IS WHETHER MOHAMMED WAS:

Was Jesus a “Jew”? (Yonatan Adler, 2/19/24, Yale University Press)

Was Jesus a “Jew”? The internet has been abuzz over this curious question in recent months. Many of those involved in the discussion have claimed that there were simply no “Jews” at all so long ago. Some have opined that Jesus was a “Judean,” an identity-category they suppose was entirely different from what we know of as “Jews.” Others have argued that Jesus was neither this nor that, but was rather a “Galilean.” Still others have claimed that he was none of the above, but instead a “Palestinian.”

The current debate had something of an earlier iteration under the Third Reich, where German scholars found themselves forced to wrestle with the apparent Jewishness of the Son of God. Nazi academics found a solution to this thorny problem by demonstrating through historical “scholarship” that Jesus was descended not from Jews … but from pure “Aryans” who migrated into Galilee from Persia!1

By this point it should be clear that all these spurious claims say more about certain deep-seated beliefs about modern-day Jews than they do about any historical reality. And that historical reality could not be clearer. For at least 2,700 years, the ancestors of today’s Jews have self-identified, and have been identified by others, with the Hebrew name “Yehudim” or its equivalent in other languages.

THE LESSON THE CROSS TAUGHT:

Thinking as a Human Being: a review of Thinking about Thinking: Mind and Meaning in the Era of Techno-Nihilism by James D. Madden (David Weinberger, 2/25/24, University Bookman)

First, thinking is not something we do in isolation. Rather, thinking entails being involved in the world. For example, to think about a summer cabin requires actual acquaintance with such a cabin, either directly (by, say, having gone to one in the past) or indirectly (by, say, a friend who has a cabin and who has shared her experience of it). Second, all thought is inextricably bound up in a web of other concepts unique to one’s personal history. For example, one’s thought of a summer cabin may entail concepts not only of “summer” and “cabin,” but also of boating, family adventures, board games, swimming, lying on the dock, bonfires, gazing at stars, laughing with friends, and myriad other concepts tied to one’s own experiential history of summer cabins. In other words, as Madden explains, “Having a mind is not to possess something, but to be involved with or a participant in, as it has been famously put, a ‘form of life.’”

What this ultimately means is that a “form of life” is not only something we participate in, but something for which we must finally take responsibility, if we wish to be authentically human. For example, we are all born into structures, traditions, and worldviews that we receive from our parents, peers, community, and culture. Yet, while we grow up as mere practitioners of the form of life we inherit, at some point responsibility demands that we subject that life to critical scrutiny to see whether it is in fact the good, right, and true form of life, or whether it ought to be abandoned for a superior one. In other words, having a mind enters us into the “space of reasons,” where we face the essential human task of critically assessing the life we lead and seeing whether it withstands rational analysis. “Thus,” Madden observes, “one must ask stark questions and face possibly dark answers about her form of life, if she really cares about it. This is what it means to refuse to live in a sham world.” As Socrates recognized long ago, the unexamined life is not worth living, so putting one’s life under scrutiny and being open to “dark answers” is essential to human authenticity. Anxiety, in other words, is the price paid for living a fully human life.

A WORLD OF MYSTERY AND WONDER:

Russian Wonder and Certainty: Like the Bible, Russian literature came to be perceived “not as a series of separate books but as a single ongoing work composed over many generations.” It is a conversation with both the present and the past simultaneously. (Lee Trepanier, 6/29/23, Public Discourse)

According to Morson, out of this exchange between writers and the intelligentsia emerged three archetypes that reflected the dominant personalities in Russian civilization. The first was the “wanderer” who was a pilgrim of ideas, often trading one theory for another, in search of the truth. Some writers experienced life-changing spiritual conversions, such as Tolstoy, as told in his Confessions, or Solzhenitsyn, as told in the Gulag Archipelago; while others accepted ideas bereft of God as the source of human salvation, such as Belinsky or Kropotkin. While both writers and intelligentsia looked to ideas for truth, the intelligentsia mistook theory for reality and thus became dedicated to a fanatical idealism. By contrast, writers like Chekhov and Dostoevsky understood the limits of theory in accounting for reality, acknowledging that mystery and wonder were at the root of human existence, and they criticized the intelligentsia for their naïve beliefs.

The second archetype was the idealist—the opposite of the wanderer, because he or she remained steadfast in loyalty to a single ideal, such as Don Quixote in his dedication to Dulcinea. In fact, the character Don Quixote was an object of fascination among Russian writers, especially Turgenev, as told in his essay, “Hamlet and Don Quixote.” In Russian literature there were two types of Don Quixote idealists: the disappointed and the incorrigible. Vsevolod Garshin was representative of the first—disillusioned with reality, accepting the ugliness that it was; Gleb Uspensky was emblematic of the second—unable to reconcile the horrid truths about the peasantry with his idealization of them. Uspensky remained incorrigibly committed to his ideals in spite of reality, leading him to praise despotism and justify policies of cruelty out of an abstract love of humanity.

The third dominant personality was the revolutionist who loved war and violence for their own sake. Bakunin, Savinkov, Lenin, Stalin, and others represented this Russian archetype. They were motivated by a metaphysical hatred of a reality that could not be explained with certainty, and, with Russian liberal acquiescence, they came to power to murder millions of Russian citizens.

All three of these archetypal personalities reveal the limitations of theoretical thinking in accounting for reality. Russian writers showed how the intelligentsia’s infallible methods of science fell short, as in the cases of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, Pierre in War and Peace, and Arkady in Fathers and Children. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn explained why human freedom and moral agency existed and why suffering brought one closer to God. Human beings cannot be simply classified as good or evil; doing so, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, was the key moral error of totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany: “The line between good and evil runs not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”

JUST WAIT UNTIL “WE” ARE “THEY”:

Guaranteed income is the ‘solution to poverty’ we need across America (MICHAEL TUBBS AND RODNEY ELLIS, 02/24/24, The Hill)

Lucile’s story, along with countless others, inspires hope. Hope for a future where people can find better jobs, move into safer housing, and spend more time with their children. Hope for communities that need a little help — just a little help — to flourish and prosper. Hope for a country that recognizes poverty is bad for the soul and bad for the nation.

So why are some Republican lawmakers working to block and ban programs that deliver significant benefits to hard-working Americans, especially when guaranteed income programs are supported by voters on both sides of the aisle?

In a new poll, nearly two-thirds of American voters — Democrats, Republicans and independents — said that they support a guaranteed income. Voters surveyed supported programs that would directly give $500-$1,000 to individuals every month with no onerous requirements or strings attached. They understood the payments would be used by those who needed it to make necessary purchases and would empower people experiencing poverty to transform their lives.

These findings should be a political earthquake and mark the beginning of a policy transformation where leaders at every level of government work together to ensure every family across the country can thrive. But even with overwhelming bipartisan support from everyday Americans, there is a growing movement from Republican state lawmakers to thwart these anti-poverty measures.

The adoption of UBI will be driven by technology replacing the jobs of white men

ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE:

Fake clouds, seeding doubt (Evan Solomon, 2/29/24, GZero)


“Those clouds are not real,” the woman standing next me at the car pickup spot said, pointing to the overcast skies above San Diego.

I had just arrived here to speak to a group of business leaders about Eurasia Group’s Top Risk report and the political landscape ahead in a year of polarizing elections.

“Sorry?”

“It’s usually beautiful and sunny here, but now with the cloud seeding, all we get is this,” she explained, adopting that apologetic tone proud locals use when their home isn’t exhibiting its best for a visitor. She interrupted her weather flow to give me some other tips about local restaurants — “check out Roberto’s taco stand” — and hiking in the area, before returning to the weather.

“Yeah, you know all those floods we had this past month?” she asked rhetorically. “They’re from these clouds the climate folks created with their cloud seeding because they want to block out the sun to cool the Earth down.”

And then she added the kicker: “And it’s poison, you know.”

Of all the risks I had come here to talk about, the poison-fake-clouds-causing-floods risk did not make the agenda. But the theory is so pervasive in California that the LA Times just wrote a long story in order to, well, rain on the conspiracy parade. […]

If someone doesn’t believe the clouds are real, why would they believe the facts about the economy are real?