Repost-Scott McLemee At Inside Higher Ed On Bernhard Henri-Levi: Darkness Becomes Him

Full piece here.

Henri-Levi (wikipedia), in the footsteps of De Tocqueville, toured the United States in 2006 to write his book American Vertigo.  As McLemee puts it, he penned a piece in ‘The Nation’ diagnosing the American left:

…as suffering from a sublime desolation. We were trapped in “a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void.”

To his credit, he has the potential to point out problems and confront issues with moral courage:

“…for one of the two very worst forces in the world, by Lévy’s account, is anti-Americanism. The other is anti-Semitism.”

They could be quite serious.  And:

“…the future menaced by the prospect of barbarism. He is right to worry. But amid his soliloquies, he makes gestures of warning in the wrong direction.”

Barbarism seems like a threat to civilized society pretty much all the time, from within and without.  So where does McLemee suggest Henri-Levy is headed?

“…the legacy of antitotalitarian radicalism. He treats it almost like a family heirloom. But he avoids embracing that tradition’s hostility to capitalism.”

Related On This Site: -Was Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..the old French liberte…which was too interventionist for the current administration? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’

Perhaps we simply aren’t ready for Henri-Levy’s more libertine, radical, French liberalism, which he displayed by coming over in the spirit of Tocqueville and pissing on the sides of our highways.

Iran & Middle-East Policy-A Dog’s Breakfast-Some Foreign Policy Links

From the Times: ‘Iran Backs Away From Key Detail In Nuclear Deal’

Ross Douthat also at the New York Times: ‘The Method To Obama’s Middle-East Mess

If you assumed that the idea is to withdraw U.S. influence from the region (quitting the Pax Americana) by creating a raft of democratically aspiring (or not) groups of regional powers constrained by international treaties, institutions and laws to some extent, you might be right:

‘If we could actually escape Middle East entanglements entirely, even that “something worse” might be less costly to the United States than trying to sustain the Pax Americana. And if we had a trustworthy hegemon in the wings to replace us, all of this might be moot.

But in the world as it exists, what we have is an administration that wants to believe it’s getting us out, but a region that’s inexorably, inevitably pulling us back in.’

Of course, this would require strong international institutions that actually work (better than the U.N), that don’t have twisted incentives where members rationally pursue their interests elsewhere (like the U.N., where tinpot types have their say and poor countries push climate treaties for monetary gain), and a U.S. military bent to those institutions and goals.

It would also probably assume someone else wouldn’t step in and take our lunch, or pursue aims that harm not only American interests, but also Western values presumed to be universal, like human rights.

It would also probably require not alienating our allies nearly so much as we’ve been doing.

Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty ‘progressive’ vision.  Throw in a domestic base of anti-war activists, climate changers pushing against even the humanitarian interventionists and realpolitikers in their own party (let alone more aggressive hawks) and it makes some sense.

To me, it still looks like a dog’s breakfast of Left, left-liberal idealism and activism and a lot of policy that responds to events, rather than guiding events with proper consideration of our leverage.

I’ll gladly accept being proven wrong in the interests of our country, and I’m really pretty skeptical of the Republican noise as well, but it can’t be this bad.

Adam Garfinkle at the American Interest: ‘Good Work If You Can Get It:’

‘If the Administration is a true believer in moving from Pax Americana in the Middle East to an offshore balancing posture, it follows that its current crop of allies, inherited from Cold War days, needs to be scythed down to near ground level. For a new balance to arise that needs less rather than more U.S. management participation—and hence risk and expense—the lowly must be raised up as the high riders are brought down. If the Israelis have not gotten the message, the Saudis certainly have. That, among other factors, explains the boldness of the new kingly administration in assembling a war coalition to fight in Yemen.’

And, another vote of confidence for our current policy.

Michael Totten: ‘Yemen Falls Apart

Yemen may well turn into the Iraq or Syria—take your pick—of the Arabian Peninsula. All the US can really do at this point is watch in horror as the Middle East continues to chew its own leg off and malefactors with global ambitions thrive in the chaos.

Update And Repost: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Related On This Site:  From The Wall Street Journal: ‘Charles Hill: The Empire Strikes Back’Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In DeclineRichard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’…Is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-Roger Kimball At Arma Virumque: ‘Santayana On Liberalism And Other Matters Of Interest’

Full essay here.

Worth a read:

‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’

and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:

‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’

For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always.  The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.

Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city.  It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times.  Very austere.  It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:

————————–

Quote found here:

‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’

That Catholic influence can also get a little intense:

‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’

Maybe they got a little carried away during the Reconquest.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarSome Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

British conservatism with a fair amount of German idealist influence: Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Standpoint: ‘Political Correctness Is Devouring Itself’

Full piece here (sent to me by a reader).

Nice line:

‘Few contemporary theorists grasp that people oppose censorship not because they respect the words of the speaker but because they fear the power of the censor.’

Key quote from a different post:

“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”

Related On This Site: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty bears resemblance to Mill’s Harm Principle:  From virtual philosopher: ‘Free Speech: notes and links for course at Free Word Centre’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From The Boston Review: ‘Libertarianism And Liberty: How Not To Argue For Limited Government And Lower Taxes’From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Jack Shakely At The Los Angeles Review Of Books Reviews Ken Stern’s ‘With Charity For All’How Many Techno- And Bureaucrats Are Enough?-David Greene At NPR: ‘Rochester Focuses On A New Piece Of American Manufacturing’A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Organizing For Action-A Few Links On The Iran Talks

Understandably, Netanyahu’s government is telling anyone who will listen that it’s very skeptical of the p5 + 1 negotiations, and now they’re telling the the French government, which is taking a harder line with Iran than our government currently (yes, that’s Francois Hollande’s coalition).  Understandably, Israel’s security, and perhaps their very existence, is at stake, and they’re playing all the angles.

For my part, as I recall with Obamacare, the pattern here seems to be starting from a principle (there will be healthcare available for all through the government…there will be a deal with Iran), while keeping the base active, then making sure any stray Democrats fall-in-line.  Then, while making a lot of promises and playing it straight for the public, all who disagree on principle, Republicans, other interested parties, any reasonable dissenters etc. are kindly ignored or told what to go do with themselves.

Walter Russell Mead:

‘But more and more people in the center are beginning to see beyond the pretty packaging and to ask questions the White House doesn’t seem to be able to answer about its overall plan. Thomas Friedman looked askance at the President this week, asking “Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran?” Henry Kissinger’s most recent book contains a long warning against the course we are on. Jeffrey Goldberg, anything but a knee-jerk opponent of the President, has been voicing his growing worries over the cost of the deal—most recently declaring that there’s “no solution” when it comes to Iran, very much including a nuclear deal. Former Administration officials are aghast; like Martin Indyk before him, David Petraeus is really saying that the President’s strategy doesn’t cohere.’

A while back, I was referred to Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech to show the framework upon which he hangs his foreign policy. He’s been called a realist by some, or one who generally deals with the world as it is, not as he’d like it to be.  In the speech, Obama sets an expectation of using force against evil in the world if necessary. He’s willing to part company with Gandhi and MLK in the face of a genuine possible evil and the grim choices events may require.

According to this view, Obama has rejected the Hillary Clinton/Samantha Power wing of humanitarian interventionism as idealists to his realism. He split the difference in Libya to the operation they wanted (like Bosnia) because of his realism. He later thought Syria wasn’t worth the risk because of his realism (it has since devolved into a near worse-case scenario into which Putin had to step-in). He approved, then withdrew, the surge in Afghanistan after he didn’t see the gains he wanted because of his realism.

All of this difference-splitting, essentially, is evidence that Obama is the one taking the longer view and resisting the impulses of those who will act to make the world as they’d like it to be by using military force and sticking our noses into the affairs of others (Bush in Iraq, Bill Clinton in Bosnia, Hillary Clinton in Libya).

I don’t find this argument tenable, except in moments of realism (realpolitik?) [addition: In other words, many of the ideological presuppositions and commitments are challenged come election time or when the system in place requires it, otherwise history and the world are generally expected to fit within those ideological presuppostions and a policy of constant activism and change towards ‘peace’ or ‘progress’ gets pursued as the logic dictates…].

Addition: Michael Doran at The Brookings Institution a while back:

‘One’s evaluation of the nuclear deal depends on how one understands the broader context of US-Iranian relations. There are potential pathways ahead that might not be all that bad. But I am pessimistic. I see the deal as a deceptively pleasant way station on the long and bloody road that is the American retreat from the Middle East.’ 

And he finished with:

That, in sum, is the true price that we just paid for six months of seeming quiet on the nuclear front. It is price in prestige, which most Americans will not notice. It is also a price in blood. But it is not our blood, so Americans will also fail to make the connection between the violence and the nuclear deal. It is important to note, however, that this is just the initial price. Six months from now, when the interim agreement expires, another payment to Ayatollah Khamenei will come due. If Obama doesn’t pony up, he will have to admit then that he cut a bad deal now. So he we will indeed pay — through the nose.’

Addition:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’

Another Addition: A former CIA director calls it ‘the worst of all possible outcomes.‘  The Iranians have bought time, and maybe just a means to legitimize their nuclear ambitions even more.

From the Jerusalem Post, it’s looking like the right to enrich uranium in the first place is a sticking point.  The clock is ticking, and many costs have already built up. Some Saturday Links On Iran-Peace At What Price?

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least

So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill  Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’
Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft of perpetual peace?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

From HyperAllergic-‘Julian Kreimer: A Place To Call Home’

Review here. More works here.

‘No, I take that back. He’s a “photographer’s painter.” His painterly impulse registers in the relatively short history of photography — especially in the by-now ancient movement known as the New Topographics.’

A little more on the New Topographics here:

‘A turning point in the history of photography, the 1975 exhibition New Topographics signaled a radical shift away from traditional depictions of landscape. Pictures of transcendent natural vistas gave way to unromanticized views of stark industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl, and everyday scenes not usually given a second glance.’ =========================================

What’s it all for?  From the HyperAllergic review:

‘The New Topographics may have documented the upward mobility of the folks who put money down on the dream package, but to the cynical eye of the loner-photographer, hungry for the authenticity of the street and the volatility of the “instant,” these sterile neighborhoods represented a road to nowhere. This happens to be the nowhere where the Kreimer generation, of which I am a part, was conceived, born, and, in my case, plopped in front of the TV.’

Meh. Addition:  From the video:

For me, it’s really the antithesis of nature photography.  You’re finally allowing the place, of tranformation, of indecision, of bad planning to begin to come in as a subject. which isn’t only political, but radical in its relationship to ideas of landscape photography.’

Oh boy, I smell the ripe bloom of political ideology. Since we’re talking political ideology, couldn’t a libertarian just as easily say: ‘I love the deep metaphysics behind just letting the marketplace do what it does:  Creating supply-chains and driving down prices while unleashing the creative energies of consumers, private entities and public planners into a madcap mishmash of competing buildings, spaces and architectural styles.  It’s this simple release of demanding that everything must have meaning into which we often experience what is most deeply meaningful:  Family, freedom, opportunity, time, boredom. I find beauty all around me, and refuse to demand that it conform to some preconceived notion of political order. postmodern theory and/or radical change’

Addition: Or, you know, ANY political ideology.  If that’s what you’re bringing to your own works of art, you’re doing it wrong.  Join a school if you must, and be influenced and imitate and learn, but if that school has a political ideology, I trust all people with wits to drop the political ideology like a bad habit…

================================ From Kreimer’s profile page:

‘Landscapes and abstractions seamlessly relate as he explores the terrain between the two. Lush color combinations applied in quick, fluid strokes are built into dense layers to create windows into Kreimer’s environments, both recognizable and contemplative.’

I like artists capable of playing with the ‘forms:’ mathematical precision and abstraction while indulging the eye and calling attention the way the eye and mind might be making sense of the world.  Unsurprisingly, I also just like landscapes that remind of the things I’ve known and places I’ve seen.  The initial pleasure of recognizing the known and familiar (even if less than ‘pretty’ to look at) and the reassurance of memory keeps me engaged before I’m possibly taken elsewhere. Let’s go elsewhere…look again.  Now, look again. Any thoughts and comments are welcome. ***As an aside: Having photographers and artists in my family, I’ve noticed they can bristle against the assumptions viewers sometimes bring to their photos, usually proportional to the effort and time spent in making a good photograph.  Composition, color, light, presentation and line can make or break a photo, and just maybe the artist’s desire for the ineffable within that moment in time when it all ‘clicked’ so to speak, cries out for some recognition. I usually forgive such trespass, because I’ve known these impulses myself, and no one I’ve known seemed in danger of becoming an insufferable ‘artiste’ full-time, criticizing the unsophisticated eye of the audience while perhaps simultaneously craving its gaze. Perhaps there’s a whiff of the ‘Is this all there is?’ lament millions of Americans (especially adolescents) understandably come to.  They’re hungry for tradition, experience, meaning, broader purpose etc. Related On This Site: Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here. Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’ Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Satire For All?-A Few Assorted Links

From Discover via the A & L Daily: ‘The Mystery Of Extraordinarily Accurate Medieval Maps

A few beautiful maps at the link.

‘To track how portolan charts’ accuracy changed over time, Hessler drew again on the methods he used to quantify butterflies’ evolutionary relationships. As with the butterflies’ wings, he imagined each chart drawn on a metal plate and simulated bending it to move the landmarks on the medieval chart to meet their locations on a modern map. The less energy required to distort the metal into the new shape, the more accurate the chart.’

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Via Marginal Revolution, Joseph Bottum at The Weekly Standard: ‘The Spiritual Shape Of Political Ideas

‘Plenty of the spiritualizing of American social politics occurs on the political right. In the libertarian elevation of the idea of individual freedom above all or in the tendency of Tea Party members “to be excessively confident in their righteousness” (according to conservative academic Jon A. Shields), one can sometimes discern dissociated Christian ideas. It’s in the air, and no one in public life entirely escapes breathing it.

But most of the recent cases of banned speakers and censored heresies seem to come from the radical side of things—unsurprisingly, perhaps, given the left’s dominant position in academia and the media, and its claim to possess now the moral authority once held by the mainline liberal consensus. Think of it in terms of the old Christian idea of shunning. Or, rather, think of it in terms of the shape and tone of the idea of shunning, set free from its constrained place in a general theological scheme. Think of shunning as it lives now, in the Church of Christ Without Christ that produces so much of our current social discourse.’

This reminded me of the Jonathan Haidt piece at Edge ‘What Makes People Vote Republican‘ (which is a pretty good questioning of one’s own beliefs and one’s own ‘tribe’). The official responses from some other Edgers reminds me of why many in academia, especially in the social sciences, tend to be so predominantly politically liberal.  The epistemology of these fields is born of much post-Enlightenment, rationalist thinking and I’m guessing many are likely attracted to these fields because of already existing assumptions, worldviews, and beliefs, framed, no doubt, by early experiences, family lives, political loyalties etc. (perhaps true of all of us, and in retrospect, could be applied to explain why I supported the Iraq War).

I do think it’s reasonable to hope for academic integrity and intellectual honesty over time.

Personally, I love to rib NPR on twitter, highlighting the absurdity when older, square liberal boomer and Dewey-esque folks (sometimes with a whiff of temperance and prohibition about them) feel the urge to find out what’s crackalackin‘ on the streets, or feel pressure to support the furious fist of social justice.  Few things are funnier to me than the fact that there’s a Unitarian Universalist College Of Social Justice.

Activism as a virtue, feminism, environmentalism, race awareness, and the ideas of social justice and progress…are the water in which many folks at NPR already swim, so it’s rather amusing when the claim is made that they’re totally just a news organization serving all of the public. I hadn’t noticed the schisms between leftist factions, some of whom are totalitarian and radical. Perhaps progress is sometimes dependent on street theater, wealth-extraction, city machine-politics and back-room dealing?  Perhaps it’s not simply a matter of logic to support public policy/program/tax x after speaking with an activist, an expert, and throwing some stats around on air?

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.’

Mark Twain

On that note, perhaps Mark Steyn’s prediction of Western demographic decline isn’t empirically valid (that would take work, time and thought I don’t have at the moment), but I do partake in some of his satire and truth…I do:

‘No Islam To See Here‘:

‘For the last decade, I’ve been lectured by the nuancey-boys on how one can’t generalize about Islam, and especially about Islam in the West: There are as many fascinating differences between Mirpuri Pakistanis in Yorkshire and Algerian Berbers in Clichy-sous-Bois as there are between Nogais and Lezgians in Dagestan. No doubt. But, whatever their particular inheritance, many young Muslims in the West come to embrace a pan-Islamic identity. The Tsarnaev boys, for example, fell under the influence of an “Australian sheikh.” That’s to say, a sheikh born in Sydney. While back in the Caucasus in 2012, Tamerlan is rumored to have met William Plotnikov, a Toronto jihadist whose Siberian parents are such assimilated Canadians they winter as Florida snowbirds. When they came back, they found a note from William saying he’d gone to France for Ramadan. And thence east, to his rendezvous with the virgins’

There is always a battle for space, ideas, and influence in the public square…such ideas have consequences for all citizens.

They’ll be plenty of time to criticize the cronyism, favoritism. cattle-swappin’ and back-room deals to come under a Republican administration should we be headed in that direction.  It’s the only way to keep them reasonably honest.