September 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Ban on Muslim Dress in Schools Stokes Culture War in France (Noemie Bisserbe, Sept. 14, 2023, WSJ)

France is expanding the definition of what kinds of clothes are unacceptable under the rules of laïcité, the country's strict separation of religion and state. For nearly two decades, public schools have barred students from wearing a visible Christian cross, a Jewish kippah, a Muslim headscarf or any other religious symbol deemed ostentatious by school officials.

But the abaya--a long, cloak-like covering--was a gray area until recently. The garment doesn't cover the head or face, but Muslim women in parts of North Africa and the Middle East traditionally wear it with a headscarf. In France, female students began wearing the abaya--without a headscarf in the classroom--as an extra layer of clothing because it covers their arms and legs, in compliance with what they say are Muslim teachings.

With the new school year about to start, President Emmanuel Macron's education minister stepped in and banned the abaya, ratcheting up France's long-running culture war over how far the government should go in enforcing laïcité rules in a country that is home to one of Europe's biggest Muslim minorities--estimated to be around 9% of the French population. Muslim leaders said the very definition of what constitutes an abaya is vague, opening the door to discrimination against Muslim students.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Remembering Jewish baseball legend Hank Greenberg's 1934 Rosh Hashanah dilemma: With the Detroit Tigers nearly neck-and-neck with the New York Yankees in the pennant race, the future Hall of Fame slugger had a tough choice to make on the Jewish new year (JACOB GURVIS, 9/16/23, Times of Israel)

"I need you out there, but in the end, it's your choice," his coach Mickey Cochrane told him.

The previous day, Greenberg had received an unexpected message of support from the Detroit Free Press. The paper printed a photo of Greenberg on the front page of the sports section, accompanied by a large Hebrew headline with the common Rosh Hashanah greeting along with an English line: "And so to you, Mr. Greenberg, the Tiger fans say, 'L'shana Tova Tikatevu!' which means 'Happy New Year.'"

"In Hebrew letters, front page, it was as if war had been declared. The type was that big," Steve Greenberg, Hank's son, told WBUR in 2017.

American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna told WBUR it was likely the first and only example of a major US newspaper using a Hebrew headline -- and in 1934, when papers used metal plates for printing.

"I have no idea, to this day, where they got the metal type for this Hebrew," said Aviva Kempner, who directed the 1998 documentary "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."

The political context of the day also weighed on Greenberg. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were rising to power in Germany and antisemitism was rampant in the United States. Detroit in particular was home to two of the 20th century's most infamous antisemites, automobile titan Henry Ford and the radio host Father Charles Coughlin.

In the end, Greenberg played. As the Tigers took the field, Jews in Detroit took their seats for Rosh Hashanah services.

"While the cantor was singing, he would stop for a minute and say, 'How's Hank doing?'" Tigers fan Harold Allen recalled to WBUR. "The whole interest of the city of Detroit was Hank Greenberg." [...]

Nine days later, Greenberg sat out the Tigers' regular season game on Yom Kippur.

A few days after Yom Kippur, the Detroit Free Press printed a poem, titled "Speaking of Greenberg." It read, in part:...

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Nietzsche the Afflicted: On Ritchie Robertson's "Friedrich Nietzsche" (Kim Solin. 9/14/23, LA Review of Books)

The mystical experience was central to Nietzsche's life, and with it the fundamental idea of the "eternal recurrence." But how should we understand this notion? Robertson suggests that it is a moral test: "If one can accept with joy the prospect of reliving one's life repeatedly, one has shown one's ability to affirm life." And a large part of Nietzsche's philosophy was indeed about learning to affirm life, about dancing and laughter. As a cosmological theory, Robertson notes, the eternal recurrence is hopelessly outdated. It seems to me that what happened to Nietzsche is best described by Kierkegaard's concept "Øieblikket" (i.e., the moment or, literally, "the glance of the eye"), a rare instant in which the temporal and the eternal meet, disclosing our place in both spheres and dissolving the boundary between them. Often a transformative experience, Øieblikket has left many baffled and in want of apt descriptions.

Simone Weil understood that Nietzsche was an afflicted person, not least physically, which for her was a precondition for genuine affliction. In Awaiting God (1951), she writes that affliction means that love and the transcendent are absent:
What is terrible is that in this darkness when there is nothing to love, if the soul ceases to love, the absence of God becomes definitive. The soul must continue to love in the void--or at least want to love--be it even with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then one day God comes to manifest himself to them and reveals the beauty of the world, like God did in the case of Job. But if the soul ceases to love, it falls into something here below that is nearly equivalent to hell.

Nietzsche compensates the affliction with arrogance. He deserves "pity but not esteem and still less admiration," Weil writes to her brother. [...]

But for Nietzsche, this barefoot reality is barren and empty. "There is no transcendent meaning, no providence, no moral absolutes, no absolutes of any kind," Robertson writes. In contrast, for Weil, the beauty of the world makes us love it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Black Liberty Matters (JACOB T. LEVY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2017, Niskanen Center)

[T]he history of the postwar libertarian movement is rich with moments of flirtation or outright entanglement with the defenders of white supremacy. This is most conspicuous today in the explicit sympathy for the Confederacy in some quarters, a problem I've written about before. There'd be no trouble writing a better book than MacLean's about the dark history of libertarian politics that ran from Murray Rothbard's support for Strom Thurmond's presidential campaign to Lew Rockwell's celebration to the beating of Rodney King to the racism that went out under Ron Paul's name in his newsletters in the 1980s and 90s to the case of then-aide to Rand Paul Jack Hunter. The generalized distrust of institutions that can be part of anti-statism easily falls back on the fantasy of a unified pre-political national people, and that populist nationalism in America is almost definitionally white populist nationalism.

The particular fascination with Abraham Lincoln's (genuine but far from unique) violations of civil liberties, the celebration of secession, the insistence on discussing the Civil Rights Act primarily in terms of freedom of association (as if white supremacy in the Jim Crow south were just a private taste that some people indulged), and an interest in freedom of speech that focuses disproportionately on the freedom to indulge in racially-charged "political incorrectness" could all figure in such a book. Rothbard was a decisive figure in the development of organized libertarianism, and the Pauls are hardly minor characters in libertarian and quasi-libertarian politics. I suspect they were less appealing to MacLean because Buchanan was close to Charles and David Koch for decades after Rothbard and his circle went to ideological war against them, and the Kochs were the exciting target for her to try to implicate.

But there are ways to neglect black liberty that are subtler than the white nationalism of the Confederatistas. Think about the different ways that market liberals and libertarians talk about "welfare" from how they talk about other kinds of government redistribution. There's no talk of the culture of dependence among farmers, although they receive far more government aid per capita than do the urban poor. Libertarians absolutely and clearly oppose corporate welfare, but they don't do so in the paternalistic language that corporate welfare recipients are morally hurt by being on the dole. The white welfare state of the 1930s-60s that channeled government support for, e.g., housing, urban development, and higher education through segregated institutions has a way of disappearing from the historical memory; the degrees earned and homes bought get remembered as hard work contributing to the American dream. But too many libertarians and their market-oriented allies among postwar conservatives treated the more racially inclusive welfare state of the 1960s and 70s as different in kind. White recipients of housing subsidies hadn't been imagined to become dependent, non-autonomous, or unfree. When the FHA was insisting that neighborhoods be segregated in order to be eligible for mortgage or building subsidies, it contributed a great deal to the racial wealth gap that persists to this day. No free-marketeers of the era felt the need to engage in brave, politically incorrect inquiries into the lower intelligence of new white homeowners that might explain their long-term dependence. But once the imagined typical welfare recipient was a black mother, welfare became a matter not just of economic or constitutional concern but of moral panic about parasites, fraud, and the long-term collapse of self-reliance.

Returning for a moment to the overt white nationalists allows us to also think about the other recent dispute about libertarian politics: the embarrassingly large number of people associated with the racist alt-right who once identified as libertarians, or (even worse) still do. Some of this is just the inevitable sociology of the fringe. Those who join smaller political movements tend to come to think that mainstream sources of information and ideology aren't to be trusted. They tend to be unmoored from a society's dominant values and intellectual positions. And so, as they change their mind about things (and most people do, from time to time), they're disproportionately likely to end up attached to other fringe movements. That's just a selection effect about what kind of people join fringe movements, and it doesn't say anything about the content of either movement's ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Should Progressives See Sohrab Ahmari as Friend or Foe?: In his new book, the alum of The Wall Street Journal and New York Post editorial and editor of Compact magazine condemns unfettered corporate power and embraces the New Deal. (Anita Jain, September 15, 2023, Washington Monthly)

[A]mari's new devil, as befitting his magazine, is the corporation and unfettered capitalism, and he proposes that the only way to check their power is through the embrace of big government. 

For example, Ahmari rails against what he calls "the class-based inequalities in power and income that are inherent to the workings of unrestrained capitalism." A few pages later, he froths about the "coercive origins" of the Industrial Revolution, which sent peasants from working fields to "prison-style workhouses and factories, their bones and tears forming the working-class sediments that underlay the glories of Victorian capitalism." He yearns for the New Deal era when labor won the countervailing power to keep big business in check, leading to the "productive genius of highly regulated, heavily unionized capitalism in which the government coordinated private economic activity." 

The pundit has frequently been clubbed together with a coterie of so-called post-liberal thinkers, including political theorist Patrick Deneen, conservative writer Rod Dreher, and legal scholar Adrian Vermeule, who are not only at odds with contemporary liberalism but have a beef with Enlightenment mainstays like individual liberty, separation of government and religion and, of course, the free market. They've had kind words for government in the style of Viktor Orban's Hungary, which is to say anti-immigration and anti-abortion, but with an expansive social welfare role for government. Describing himself in Newsweek last month as "ferociously conservative on cultural issues," Ahmari endorses the ideas of his brethren but adds a union-loving twist that frets over the income inequality perverting our social compact. 

Putting aside cultural issues to focus on the economic ones, Ahmari structures Tyranny, Inc. as a catalog of corporate coercion, retelling horror stories likely to be familiar to readers of The Nation, Mother Jones, or Jacobin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


INTERVIEW: Russia will stay 'infected with apathy' until Putin is gone  (Darko Janjevic | Andreas Brenner, 9/16/23, Deutsche-Welle)

Anin himself shows no sign of apathy. He moved to Russia as a teenager, studied journalism in Moscow, and in 2006 started working as a sports reporter with the Novaya Gazeta, a paper known for seeing several of its reporters killed under the Putin regime. In 2008, Anin was sent by Novaya Gazeta to cover the brief war between Russia and Georgia, when he joined the outlet's investigative unit.

That position allowed him to work on major stories including tax fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky and corruption surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics, but also conduct investigations into people at the highest levels of the Putin regime, such as Putin's friend and billionaire cellist Sergey Roldugin and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. In a 2016, Anin wrote an article about Sechin's wife owning a yacht worth $100 million (€94 million). Sechin sued the paper for defamation and won.

Anin is aware that many people find it hard to understand the level of graft happening in the Russian elite.

"Russian society simply lives in colossal misery," he told DW's Andreas Brenner in Hamburg. Stories about Putin's castle or his friends' yachts mean little to rural people living "without flushing toilets in 18th century-like conditions."

This disconnect is "nothing to marvel at -- even the war was only a concern for a few people until the mobilization started and they started detaining husbands and brothers, sending them to the front with no training, where they simply got killed," he added.

Ending the Ukraine war would only be the first step in waking up Russian society, according to the reporter. He believes it would take decades of working with the populace to reform the country. And it would happen only after the death of Putin and the "collective Putin" -- the clique gathered around the long-ruling Russian president.

"It's impossible to break this apathy under the Putin regime," says Anin. "All the truth about the war needs to be made public, so that the people would simply become aware what horror was happening during those 30 years, with them witnessing it in silence. And those horrors were committed with the unconditional approval of the people. And maybe after that Russia will have some chance to overcome this apathy and start living in a new way."

Populist Leaders and the Economy (Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick, Christoph Trebesch, AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW)

We build a new long run cross- country database to study the macroeconomic history of populism. We identify 51 populist presidents and prime ministers from 1900 to 2020 and show that the economic cost of populism is high. After 15 years, GDP per capita is 10% lower compared to a plausible non-populist counterfactual. Economic disintegration, decreasing macroeconomic stability, and the erosion of institutions typically go hand in hand with populist rule.