Adam Kirsch At The National Interest On Lionel Trilling

Trilling’s Tutelage:’

‘Then came the 1960s. Through this decade Trilling walked an exquisitely fine line. He dined at the White House with John and Jackie Kennedy. His very name was associated with the word liberal, and that was the problem in the sixties. Trilling was the kind of centrist Cold War liberal against whom the decade’s radicals defined themselves. It was Trilling’s peculiar destiny to protect and defend the novels and poetry of the Victorians, among others, in the Age of Aquarius. When the Columbia campus rose up in protest in the spring of 1968, Trilling symbolized the liberal old guard’

As posted:

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society. The Viking Press: New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

Trilling and Nabokov at last!:

Other odds and ends:

Oliver Traldi at Quillete reviews Mark Lilla- ‘The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

‘Lilla’s own explanation of his liberalism, given by the book’s structure, is that politics is liberal by definition.

and:

‘Lilla clearly thinks he is making a pragmatic case, but he does not engage with any empirical political science; no numbers of any kind—polls, turnout, what have you—appear in the book.’

Another view of the 60’s and Yale: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.’

 

From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’

Full piece here.

More on Kennan (wikipedia).

Now that Putin is playing the Russian strongman in Ukraine (video of Russian tactics):

‘Yet one wonders how many U.S. government officials during the 1940s would have been able to behold the fruits of the policy with the sort of critical distance that Kennan demonstrates. His black, razor-sharp diagnosis of Stalinism—at a time when pro-Soviet wartime propaganda in the United States presented a diametrically opposed picture of the regime—is of a piece with this innate skepticism and independence of thought.’

Many diplomats and first-class thinkers can be frustrated by the constraints of a democratic system. Some are like Grandmasters, playing a global game of chess. They can spend their entire lives envisioning strategic outcomes, advising and calculating many moves ahead as they run through a rolodex of hundreds of names and players.  

It can be dispiriting for them to have to try to explain the logic of it all to a President and his team who might give them 10 minutes to get a point across, and then have them write a follow-up position paper. 

Or, in the case of Kennan, it might be even harder when their ideas are actually adopted into policy.

‘SOME OF HIS crankiest observations deal with the shortcomings of democracy. During his time as a government official Kennan had often witnessed how the principles of good policy were undermined by the short-term thinking of elected politicians, and he had concluded from the experience that democracies were inherently incapable of devising and pursuing rational strategy.’

Perhaps it’s an inherent good to have the logic and experience of even the very wise frustrated by the democratic process.

A realism you can get behind?

Henry Kissinger:

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

From The National Interest-Syria Links

Here.

From the Brzezinski interview:

‘I think if we tackle the issue alone with the Russians, which I think has to be done because they’re involved partially, and if we do it relying primarily on the former colonial powers in the region—France and Great Britain, who are really hated in the region—the chances of success are not as high as if we do engage in it, somehow, with China, India and Japan, which have a stake in a more stable Middle East. That relates in a way to the previous point you raised. Those countries perhaps can then cumulatively help to create a compromise in which, on the surface at least, no one will be a winner, but which might entail something that I’ve been proposing in different words for more than a year—namely, that there should be some sort of internationally sponsored elections in Syria, in which anyone who wishes to run can run, which in a way saves face for Assad but which might result in an arrangement, de facto, in which he serves out his term next year but doesn’t run again’

It’s liberal, it’s internationalist, but at least it’s a suggestion.  This blog is looking for ideas as to what could be done.

Foreign policy statesmen can become quite unrooted from daily politics and public sentiment at home, playing the grand chess game, doing what we want them to do, really, which is traveling all the time, being shrewd diplomats, knowing who the players are and building up contacts and experiences and what’s happening politically on the ground in other countries.   Usually, they can offer-up strategy and counsel, connecting their ideals with their practical knowledge and experience and putting it in front of our elected leaders for possible action, and in front of the people for better understanding and possible persuasion.

Related On This Site:  A Few More Syria Links-’Unmitigated Clusterf**k?’

More Syria-From Via Media: ‘Congress on Syria: Going In On A Wing and A Prayer’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’…Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

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’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

Robert Merry At The National Interest: ‘Spengler’s Ominous Prophecy’

Full piece here.

Is the West in decline?  Is it in decline relative to the Arab world’s exploding birthrate?   Is it in decline relative to the rise of Asia, after having downloaded the West’s “killer apps“?  Are we in inexorable decline having passed the point of empire and will we increasingly feel the temptation to tyranny?

Merry takes a look at Oswald Spengler:

‘So it is with America and Europe. Hence, an analysis of American decline must lead to questions about Western decline. And an analysis of Western decline must lead to Oswald Spengler, the German intellectual who in 1918 produced the first volume of his bombshell work Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), followed by the second volume in 1922. Spengler’s thesis forced his readers to look at history through an entirely new prism. They did, and he enjoyed a surge of influence. But the man and his work are in eclipse today, and there’s little evidence that scholars pondering American decline have consulted the dark musings of this German romantic or his overarching theory of history’

Perhaps we can view Spengler partially as a product of his age, influenced by the Great war and a strong romanticism that rejected a more thorough rationalist framework of “linear” science guiding historical analysis while making his own more polemical framework (the trap of Continental Europe we can avoid).  He seems to have made grand and sweeping pronouncements within the scope of his own thinking while deploying history, the arts, symbolism, anthropology, culture and German nationalism and idealism.  He was in a Germany increasingly feeling the pinch.

Yet he’s had a lot of influence, and some prescience:

‘As John Farrenkopf points out in his Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics, Spengler’s Decline beguiled numerous prominent men of ideas and action in post–World War II America. They included George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Paul Nitze, Louis Halle, Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr. Kennan read Spengler in the original language during a stay in Germany in his youth. Kissinger’s undergraduate thesis at Harvard focused on Spengler, along with Toynbee and Kant, and he once confessed to a “perverse fascination” with the German’s thinking, although Kissinger ultimately rejected the idea of inevitable decline.’

Lots of food for thought, including mention of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama:

‘ And isn’t the great foreign-policy debate of our time—whether America should continue its post–Cold War policy of interventionism in the name of American exceptionalism and Western universalism; or whether it should abandon that mission in favor of a more measured exercise of its military and economic power—fundamentally a debate over whether Spengler had it right?’

Well worth a read.

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***As an aside, and a possibly feckless exercise of the type you can find on this blog:

Just to contrast the Anglo and German approaches towards nihilism and the arts, the idea of tragic decline, and the movement of the individual artist isolated from society in the West, one could possibly contrast Werner Herzog’s deep, gloomy, serious German approach (and excellent filmaking):

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….with what I would call more the Anglo tradition on this blog:  a similar nihilism and existential lament of the individual up against the void and the meaninglessness of life…but expressed through a more lively punk and rock music scence, the American talent for advertising, T.V. and movies and all of this occurring inside a framework of the Anglo genius for law and governance, the focus on capitalism and commercialism, religion and sports etc.

Here’s Walter Russel Mead discussing his ideas on the successes of America and Britain, which I submit highlights the Anglo/German divide a bit:

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Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

***I should add that Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time.  Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.

Related On This Site:  Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In DeclineRichard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set

Samuel Huntington’s page at Harvard here.

Google books has ‘Political Order In Changing Societies‘ and ‘Who Are We?:  The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘  (previews)available.

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’

Was Leo Strauss on the other side of the Anglo-German divide, perhaps missing some important liberal traditions that Germans (like many Arabs) simply mistake for decadence in the Anglosphere?  How did the Strauss of his youth, at one point steeped in Nietzsche and Nietzsche via Heidegger, find a way to escape the paroxysms of the German State, the narrowing vision of that state under German idealism, and the possibility of a non-fascistic German conservatism which could accommodate a German Jew? Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’…

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft…Kant often leads to a liberal political philosophy:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Enlightenment project?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant…Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science:  Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube

From The National Interest Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rawls Visits the Pyramids’

Full post here.

“So the deepening divide in Egyptian political life can help if it forces Islamists and non-Islamists to sit down at the table and hash out a deal. At this point, there may still be enough that they can agree on—in terms of a more open, democratic and pluralist order—that a document can be written. The problem right now may be practical.”

I’ve still got my hand on my wallet.  The conditions that can support stable, non-Islamic and Islamist institutions may not be conducive to having a strong enough presence in the public square, and the institutions that are not Islamist rely on much foreign aid and influence.  The ‘middle-class,’ or those who are well enough off to maintain some order, regardless of deeper beliefs (however many idealists in the West would like to see them) may not be able to hold their ground.

Related On This Site:  Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

From CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’

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