An Unenviable Situation

Monday, April 06, 2020

Vermeule is back.
Last time he was defending the kidnapping of Jewish children, and now it's atheists, sending conservatives to the camps, and this.

He has a tag now; so do the Posners. I trolled Vermeule and his old writing partner on twitter awhile ago asking if they were still friends.

I'd forgotten Vermuele at Crooked Timber. They never end up looking good.

repeat from 2011, a comment at Concurring Opinions
Balkin is acting as an advocate, as lawyers do. He’s engaged in an argument with Posner, Vermeule and their ilk. But his logic or his faith force him to fudge his history to defend his vision of democracy, which allows Vermeule to counter as a hardened realist and blablabla [blablabla]. I find myself more and more envious of Canada and the living tree doctrine, which renders all this irrelevant. 
Our relation to the Constitution is like our relation to Don Giovanni. And every time Peter Sellars has a new production set in Trump Tower or Las Vegas, we set about arguing whether he made the thing fresh or somehow screwed it up. The only difference between the two debates is I suppose the matters of life and death, or justice and tyranny: the baggage of politics. I love baggage; thinking about baggage takes up a good part of my life. But treating politics as baggage, as vulgar, has its advantages. I see no need to waft about in discussions of faith and redemption; fascism is fascism, why pussyfoot around it? Posner and Vermeule defend what lovers of democracy abhor, what else is there to say? They claim to find support for this in the Constitution but Christian kings found support for the Crusades in the Bible. They claim to defend reason. My response is simple. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it: “That authoritarianism has become normative may be a scientific fact, but that does not make authoritarianism itself a scientific truth.”
Balkin is arguing from the past and about the future, but somehow the present is lacking.
…in a hospital tent at the clearing station I came across a man with a French flag wrapped around his waist; the medics discovered it when they cut his shirt away. He was a hard-looking, blondish chap with a mouthful of gold teeth and a face adorned by a cross-shaped knife scar—the croix de vache with which procurers sometimes mark business rivals. An interesting collection of obscene tattooing showed on the parts of him that the flag did not cover. Outwardly he was not a sentimental type.
"Where are you from?" I asked him.
"Belleville," he said. Belleville is a part of Paris not distinguished for its elegance.
"What did you do in civilian life?" I inquired.
That made him grin. "I lived on my income," he said.
"Why did you choose the Corps Franc?"
"Because I understood," he said.


Peter Navarro: “... I'm a social scientist. I have a Ph.D."
cf.  Jon Elster
Jon Swarz: The Democratic Party Must Harness the Legitimate Rage of Americans. Otherwise, the Right Will Use It With Horrifying Results.
It’s tough to be optimistic that today’s liberals can replicate Roosevelt’s success. The corporate-managerial-legal class that operates the Democratic Party fears anger and sees it as illegitimate as the basis for action. Having beaten back the threat of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren presidential candidacies, both fueled by strong populist emotion, they dream of a technocratic politics purified of messy, fickle human feelings.

But the American right specializes in the politics of anger. If the Democrats refuse to harness the legitimate rage of Americans and direct it at those responsible for our predicament, the right will make this anger its own and will win.
The piece has everything: The Democratic Party, The New Deal, John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath, populism, fascism, technocracy, everything but the word "socialism". It's popular anger and practical politics. It's not radical, not utopian. It's bourgeois to the core.

Sanders and Warren fucked up. Their egos were too big to work together. Change comes from outside and below. The states are leading: Newson, Inslee, Kemp, (who defeated the "progressive" candidate) followed by journalists with no interest in neutrality.

Yale epidemiologist vs NYT journalist. Empiricism vs Rationalism.

"This is journalistic malpractice. If we don't have scale-up of testing, we will be in lock-down for months & months. There is no debate on this, why frame it like there is one?"

The journalist replies "you’re picking the wrong fight, move along"

The Philosopher: "When academics veer towards activism, perhaps in quest of bureaucratically mandated 'impact', there's often a rise in hyperbole and a corresponding decline in credibility."
Looking through the archives. So confused.

"Lawyers are the rule of law" Joe Jamail. Politics is vulgar.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

When my father’s father’s father had a difficult task to accomplish, he went to a certain place in the forest, lit a fire, and immersed himself in silent prayer. And what he had to do was done. 
When my father’s father was faced with the same task, he went to the same place and said: "We no longer know how to light the fire, but we still know the prayer." And what he had to do was done. 
Later, when my father was faced with the same task, he too went to the forest and said: "We no longer know how to light the fire. We no longer know the mysteries of prayer. But we still know the exact place in the forest where it took place. And that should suffice." And it did suffice. 
But when I was faced with the same task, I stayed at home and I said: "We no longer know how to light the fire. We no longer know the prayer. We don’t even know where the place in the forest is. But we still know how to tell the story."

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

David Weinberger, of the Berkman Center, 2017
If you give people a choice among an infinite supply of media, argues Sunstein, they will gravitate toward content that confirms their existing opinions. Let people connect with whomever they want, and they will connect with those who share their views. Their conversations will then reinforce their beliefs — and, worse, drive them to more extreme versions of those beliefs. They will, in short, form echo chambers. 
The internet satisfies those conditions: it gives us access to a galactic selection of content and enables us to find others who share our beliefs, down to our micro-preferences. For Sunstein, this explains why our culture has become so much more fragmented and polarized. 
According to him, nothing less than the fate of the republic hangs on recognizing and forestalling this danger. At its heart, he argues, the United States is an experiment in deliberative democracy: “[T]he framers’ greatest and most original contribution to political theory,” he writes, was the idea that “heterogeneity, far from being an obstacle, would be a creative force, improving deliberation and producing better outcomes.” Deliberative democracy thus requires that people who disagree be able to talk with one another, constructively and openly, in this way collectively discovering which beliefs are worth holding. Echo chambers, he worries, polarize us to the point that we are unable to have those conversations, and they thus pose a severe threat to democracy itself.
John Quiggin 2008
I’m really, truly, not going to talk about Jonah Goldberg. Instead, I’m going to talk about Cass Sunstein and his idea, reprised in Republic 2.0 that the Internet poses a threat to democracy by virtue of it’s capacity to allow us to avoid information we don’t like. Conservatives are increasingly seeking only conservative views, liberals are seeking only liberal views, and never the twain shall meet.
Sunstein argues that the echo chamber effect tends to reinforce existing views and produce a poisonous partisan divide. 
It seems to me that exactly the opposite is true. The partisan divide in the US is being reinforced because people are more exposed to the other side than before.

Before the Internet, the average liberal or social democrat was largely insulated, on a day-to-day basis, from the kinds of views represented by Free Republic or Little Green Footballs. Similarly, unless we sought out rightwing magazines we were insulated to a large extent from commentators like Goldberg, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter. Now we can see them minute-to-minute and it’s obvious that the idea of treating them as part of a legitimate discussion is absurd. 
Quiggin reminds me of Jonah Goldberg's imaginary Pauline Kael, who famously said that Nixon couldn’t have won because she didn’t know anybody who voted for him. And that's understating it. Quiggin is defending the ignorance of Martin Luther King's white moderate.  "I suppose I live a sheltered life." And in 2008 Goldberg's opinions on Israel were just slightly to the right of Crooked Timber.

I always thought Sunstein's point was obvious, especially for any culture founded on individualist liberalism. It's that culture that's given us Facebook and surveillance capitalism and personalized marketing, the virtual store where the displays are changed and items moved to the front to fit your last purchases. Newsfeeds work the same way, reinforcing biases, from narrowcasting to microcasting to the narcissism where the world is reduced to a mirror.

Liberal technocrats see the problem not as lack of information but its excess, and the answer to anger in content moderation, censorship, and limits on speech.

Back to Henry: repeats. You really can't make this shit up.
Liberalism of the small-l kind goes together with a strong emphasis on free speech. The implicit assumption is that we will all be better off in a world where everyone can say whatever they want, to whoever they want, even if it is inconvenient, or wrong minded, or crazy.
"small-l". No, son. And I'll add another name to my list of idiots. I got my fill of her on twitter.

Kate Klonick The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech
...This Article argues that to best understand online speech, we must abandon traditional doctrinal and regulatory analogies and understand these private content platforms as systems of governance. These platforms are now responsible for shaping and allowing participation in our new digital and democratic culture, yet they have little direct accountability to their users. Future intervention, if any, must take into account how and why these platforms regulate online speech in order to strike a balance between preserving the democratizing forces of the internet and protecting the generative power of our New Governors.
Facebook and Google are functional monopolies, so the high priests are arguing that the techlords need their guidance. The simplest answer is avoided, because the powerful love their own power.

Ban Targeted Advertising
As Mark Zuckerberg testifies to Congress about Facebook's privacy failures, here's a wholesale solution for politicians to consider.
Tech Companies Are Destroying Democracy and the Free Press
Ad revenue that used to support journalism is now captured by Google and Facebook, and some of that money supports and spreads fake news.
The problem isn't t too much information but that there's not enough of it. And it's not about "fake" news.  "Real" news is a myth. The people who are conned will believe anything that confirms their worse suspicions and their anger. What made them so paranoid?

I grew up reading The NY Times. When I looked at the paper I saw the decisions of the editors, made for and in the name of a subset of the American public. It was the "paper of record". All the News That's Fit to Print, is a statement of authority. When I go to the library and look through a catalogue I see the record of the decisions of a wider subset and a wider authority. It would bother me if the library catalogue were ordered 'just for me', a subset of one. That's now the model of news and information for the majority, and it's seen as normal. And the liberal technocratic response to the new yellow press is to see it as more confirmation of their own status. Stoller and Dayan are middle class supporters of the middling middle class; they write from self-interest and empiricism not neutrality and rationalism, like Duncan Black but not as lazy and with less snobbery.
Elite liberals can't talk to the conservative base without admitting their own responsibility for disaster. The 'left' can't communicate beyond its base because that would mean to end of its idealism. A popular left can only be a movement reflecting the interests of its members. That their adoring middle class base is so central to Sanders and Warren is part of the problem. Again and again: the distinction between solidarity as idea and fact.
Meanwhile, a small group of senior aides had been pushing Sanders for months to go harder on Biden. 
The problem: Sanders actually liked him. Personally, they got along better than he ever did with Hillary Clinton, aides have said. (The former vice president falls into an exclusive category for the Vermont senator: the people who were nice to Sanders before he mattered, as two aides put it recently.) Back in January, it was the candidate’s decision to personally apologize to Biden after one of his surrogates, Zephyr Teachout, wrote an op-ed about Biden’s “corruption problem.”
Dayen: "The Zephyr situation was when you knew that Sanders wasn't willing to do everything it takes."
Attacking Biden would have kept his base happy, but it wouldn't have expanded it.  

I’m just going to cut and paste comments from this story at the Huffington Post on white working class people dying of despair. Keep in mind, the suicide, alcohol, and drug abuse is causing deaths at the level of the AIDS epidemic at its height. This sentiment is common, I just picked comments from one thread on one article. 
“Sorry, not sorry. These people are not worthy of any sympathy. They have run around for decades bitching about poor minorities not “working hard enough,” or that their situation is “their own fault.” Well guess what? It’s not so great when it’s you now, is it? Bunch of deplorables, and if they die quicker than the rest of us that just means the country will be better off in the long run.”
The HuffPo article links to a dead NYT link, an AP article still up elsewhere. The source is Case and Deaton. Deaton: master of the obvious.

Stoller blocked me for reminding him too often how casually he's been consorting with fascists. If this were the UK he'd be a Brexiter, without quite being willing to call it "Lexit". He's a nationalist, an updated cold war liberal, and a Zionist. He's always been a self-important ass. Dayan's a reporter with no pretense; his anger is basic and grounded in experience. Stoller is an "intellectual".

I've always read right wing sites, and I trolled them as much as I trolled the 'left'. I was banned as I was blocked on twitter. I used to tell earnest liberals they should read more, but I always got one answer: "I'm on the web to talk to friends." I'm still following right wing sites and watching the anger that no one left or liberal wants to face directly.

"They are not intellectuals, but occasionally dream that they will be. That is their secret ambition." And 60 years later they got their wish.

Liberalism is a disaster. America has always been a disaster.
Every so often along 99 between Bakersfield and Sacramento there is a town: Delano, Tulare, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Modesto, Stockton. Some of these towns are pretty big now, but they are all the same at heart, one- and two- and three-story buildings artlessly arranged, so that what appears to be the good dress shop stands beside a W.T. Grant store, so that the big Bank of America faces a Mexican movie house. Dos PeliculasBingo Bingo Bingo. Beyond the downtown (pronounced downtown, with the Okie accent that now pervades Valley speech patterns) lie blocks of old frame houses—paint peeling, sidewalks cracking, their occasional leaded amber windows overlooking a Foster's Freeze or a five-minute car wash or a State Farm Insurance office; beyond those spread the shopping centers and the miles of tract houses, pastel with redwood siding, the unmistakable signs of cheap building already blossoming on those houses which have survived the first rain. To a stranger driving 99 in an air-conditioned car (he would be on business, I suppose, any stranger driving 99, for 99 would never get a tourist to Big Sur or San Simeon, never get him to the California he came to see), these towns must seem so flat, to impoverished, as to drain the imagination. They hint at evenings spent hanging around gas stations, and suicide pacts sealed in drive-ins. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Tyler Cowen. "The real contributions of Harvard, MIT and Stanford to the world are not the food-service workers they hire."

Henry Farrell responds
There is also the conservative case (from @SWGoldman
fair) that the actual function of Harvard etc is to inculcate appropriate values in elite. On the one hand, those values might include solidarity with ordinary people in hard times.
Farrell and Cowen.

The more things change...

Farrell and Cowen now have tags, along with Kieran Healy. That one is interesting.

I was thrown off Twitter for the same reason I was blocked by Crooked Timber. The difference between coronavirus denialism and other forms is only the number of layers you have to get through before you reach the hard level of faith. And the owners and managers of Twitter follow the model of enlightened seriousness originating in the church, followed by academia and now by professionalized journalism that mandates neutrality with exceptions as chosen by leadership.  I wasn't "collegial". On Twitter that means I replied directly rather than posting a screenshot for others to mock. And today the same idiot is retweeting claims that there is no ventilator shortage and hospitals are not beyond capacity.

The rise of science denialism is the backlash against decades of academic and political pseudoscience.

Nichols is the author of The Death of Expertise, published by Oxford.
I'd forgotten that Quiggin linked to a positive review.

Friday, March 13, 2020

New examples of the same old thing, and slow change. Liberal authoritarianism, the return of the social, of experience, empiricism, etc. The tags explain.

Branko Milanovic
"Swapping my Russian passport for a Dutch one, I realized that while nothing has changed about me as a person, I am treated radically differently anywhere I go. This is the random privilege that contemporary citizenship upholds."
linking to Nils Gilman
Citizenship is a morally repugnant scam whose "key function boils down to the preservation and reinforcement of global inequalities, as well as the distribution of liabilities to the majority of the world’s population, mostly former colonial subjects."
linking to The case against citizenship
When we understand citizenship’s actual functioning in faithful, accurate terms, it cannot under any circumstances be justified.
Citizenship is the foundation of self-government. Liberals support 'guided' democracy and the rule of technocrats, a ruling class searching for 'justice'.

Liberal technocrats support hate speech laws, (a recent example of German perversity).
Efforts by German authorities to clamp down on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign took a sinister turn recently after a Jewish-German singer and daughter of a Holocaust survivor was warned that a concert in which she is scheduled to perform would be cancelled if she made any remarks in support of BDS. 
The threat, which suggests that German officials are policing how Israel is discussed in arts and cultural events, shows Nirit Sommerfeld receiving a letter in which the singer is warned that if she used the word BDS or anything they deem to be “anti-Semitic” German authorities would cancel the concert in Munich on Saturday. Sommerfeld and her orchestra Shlomo Geistreich are scheduled to hold a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the band.

Videos being passed around twitter of Italians in their apartments, singing songs together out into the street. The Europeans and others are touched. One pompous Oxbridge philosoph, from Rome, posts a thread,  "to celebrate the resilience of ordinary people", with videos from Salerno, Naples, Turin, Benevento, Siena, Florence, Nuoro, Arigento. Himself not being an ordinary person, he's celebrating the fatalism of the weak. No one seems to get that this is a parallel to the inability of Italy to have an organized functioning response to the crisis. An American academic specializing in Europe notes happily that they sang songs in the plague years in 16th century. Of course they did. And it's beautiful, but it's tragic. Those singing get the point.

Arindrajit Dube:
"Maybe one thing Americans have got going for us is that as a people we actually are ok with social distancing from other human beings and don’t need to really even do balcony dances."

I made my usual response

"The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer."
Milanovic March 19, 2020, Foreign Affairs:
"The Real Pandemic Danger Is Social Collapse. As the Global Economy Comes Apart, Societies May, Too"
Even so, the human toll of the disease will be the most important cost and the one that could lead to societal disintegration. Those who are left hopeless, jobless, and without assets could easily turn against those who are better off. Already, some 30 percent of Americans have zero or negative wealth. If more people emerge from the current crisis with neither money, nor jobs, nor access to health care, and if these people become desperate and angry, such scenes as the recent escape of prisoners in Italy or the looting that followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 might become commonplace. If governments have to resort to using paramilitary or military forces to quell, for example, riots or attacks on property, societies could begin to disintegrate. 
Thus the main (perhaps even the sole) objective of economic policy today should be to prevent social breakdown. Advanced societies must not allow economics, particularly the fortunes of financial markets, to blind them to the fact that the most important role economic policy can play now is to keep social bonds strong under this extraordinary pressure.
Milanovic, March 30, 2019, the most recent link,  to a post from 2017:
Dining alone…in a hyper-competitive world
Is the life where we “bowl alone”, dine alone, exercise alone, go to concerts alone, live alone our ultimate objective? It seems to be the case. The average size of household has been going down with higher income. Not only do richer countries have lower (or negative) population growth rates, but the richer the country the smaller the household size. The final objective will be to live in a world where each household is composed of one person. Denmark, Norway and Germany are almost there: the average household size is 2.2 (Senegal and Mali have the average household size of 9.1 and 9.5). Japan offers a vision of a society of ultra-competitiveness combined with loneliness.

We should not be surprised by such an outcome. Being together with others always had an economic angle: expenses were less, on a per capita basis, when shared; we needed children to help us in the old age and spouses to pay our bills. But with higher incomes and higher labor participation rates, we can afford expensive utility bills, we can provide for our old age and a comfortable old-age home (so broadly advertised today). Our children (if we have any) will be too far away, cast around by the availability of jobs and hyper-competitiveness to take care of us.

Being alone is both our preference and a response to a world of competitiveness, commodification and higher incomes. The new world that we can glean will not be dystopian. It will be a Utopia, with a twist.

“It will not be a universal concentration camp for it will be guilty of no atrocity. It will not seem insane, for everything will be ordered, and the stains of human passions will be lost amid the chromium gleam. We shall have nothing to lose and nothing to win. Our deepest instincts and our most secret passions will be analyzed, published and exploited. We shall be rewarded with everything our hearts ever desired. And the supreme luxury of the society of technical necessity will be to grant the bonus of useless revolt and an acquiescent smile.” (Jacques Ellul, The technological society, 1954).
Milanovic replying to me in Feb 2018. "We all die alone"
He seems to be learning something, but it's hard to tell.

Capitalism Alone. He's considered to be on the left, which is stupid. He's a hard-wired technocrat struggling to come to terms with the need for a social cohesion that technocracy doesn't supply. I don't quibble with his description of China, and tossing his book at them is the easiest response to earnest American preachers of the end of capitalism.

Gilman's a fan of Hofstadter. He used to read me here, when he was the Chief of staff of the Chancellor at UC Berkeley. He needs his own tag.  From Berkeley to The Berggruen Institute to godawful Breakthrough InstituteMandarins of the Future indeed.

Milanovic reminds me of Zizek. That's something to write about. I like Yugos.
When Europeans talk about Liberalism, they're referring to the state of being of the modern bourgeoisie.
“Achh! you’re so bourgeois!” they say.
That’s the basis of every European conversation.
“Good morning”
“Achh! you’re so bourgeois!”
“Achh! you’re so bourgeois too!”
In America at least in big cities when we pretend to like foreigners, we talk about being Liberal instead of being bourgeois, because to attack liberalism seems to imply conservatism, or worse! That puts people in the position of arguing that Gramma’s manicotti is really not as good as the frozen kind because Gramma was a peasant who went to Church three times an hour while waiting for the Second Coming, and frozen manicotti is the wave of the future and besides, it feeds the masses, but anyway you don’t eat frozen manicotti because you go to La Maison de la Casa House or some other such for manicotti that is better than Gramma’s and that only cost $40 so why not? This is modern American liberalism.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

I left the job yesterday, and put my tools in the shop. I told my boss everything would be shut down in a week. He thought it would be three.

Because I'm lazy and it's easy this way.
Quiggin has a tag. It's not new.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sunday, February 09, 2020

The night before the caucus clusterfuck, while the Super Bowl played, Bernie Sanders acolytes threw a party at a hole-in-the-wall bar in downtown Des Moines. Bearded 20-somethings smoked actual cigarettes outside and discussed the difference in rental prices between Silver Lake and Williamsburg. Inside, the crowd of canvassers and campaign staffers bopped to “Common People,” the Britpop class-rage anthem by Pulp. Writers from New York magazine, as well as leftwing publications like Jacobin and n+1, sidled up to the bar and got down to discussing labor rights. The nearest L train stop was 1,100 miles away.

...The Sanders shindig Sunday night was conjured by the hosts of Chapo Trap House, the popular podcast of the self-proclaimed “dirtbag left” — the radicalized, often vulgar, and sometimes hilarious internet creatures all in for Bernie. The show’s hosts gathered in a tiny and graffiti-covered back room that looked like a charming imitation of a Lower East Side dive bar bathroom and discussed their candidate’s chances in the caucuses and whether one could get HBO interested in a miniseries starring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Out on the dance floor, a massive image of Jeffrey Epstein’s bungalow on Little Saint James, otherwise known as “Pedophile Island,” was being beamed onto the walls.
The difference between Sanders' working class and minority supporters and those who "express solidarity" with them.  Tickets for the Chapo event were $25, $15 for students. The podcast now makes $160,857 a month
WEST LIBERTY — Sylvia Gutierrez and her boyfriend, Kevin Fernandez, both 22, didn’t caucus four years ago. But this year, Fernandez’s grandmother, who is not a U.S. citizen, gave them a mission: Be her voice and caucus for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I’m here because family members wanted a vote that can’t vote,” Gutierrez said. “He (Fernandez) convinced me, and so did his grandparents. His grandmother said to come and vote for her.”

The couple were among a large contingent of supporters for the Vermont senator at West Liberty’s second precinct on Monday night during the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

Solidarity,  among members of a group is not a decision; it's a reflex. The decision would be to refuse it, to chose to be disloyal, forms of which will make you  a "rat", a "snitch", or a "scab".
solidarity | ˌsäləˈderədē |
1 unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group: factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students. 
2 (Solidarity) an independent trade union movement in Poland that developed into a mass campaign for political change and inspired popular opposition to communist regimes across eastern Europe during the 1980s. [translating Polish Solidarność.]
That the dictionary editors chose the example of workers joining students is either ironic or predictable, since editors and students are members of the same group, and loyalty wins out.

etc, etc

What's interesting and good about Sanders is that he still has an unthinking loyalty to people he sees as like himself: workers and immigrants, people who are in the process of becoming or dream of becoming middle class, as opposed to the earnest children of success who want to help.

The Dirtbag Left is the new, new liberalism, a down and dirty Douglas Black.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Technocratic liberalism and Israel. In a few years no one is going to admit defending either of them.
"We're all populists now" or something.
Please Stop Calling Bernie Sanders a Populist 
The socialist from Vermont is not a threat to American democracy. The president is.
By Jan-Werner Müller
Mr. Müller is the author of “What Is Populism?”
Sanders is a populist. MLK was a populist. The technocratic definition of populism comes from continental Europe. The UK Labour Party was populist, or it was. That's why Keynes hated it.
Müller is German. Cas Mudde is Dutch. Inquisitorial vs Adversarial etc. The days of Weberian anti-liberalism being the definition of liberalism are ending. Weberian anti-liberalism is still a problem.

I'm so fucking bored.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

3/7 Hello Chicago. Who are you?

Just for fun, and memories of the good old days.

Henry Farrell recommends Osita Nwanevu: "This is good"

The Enemies of Truth
"The true enemy of writing Packer conjures up isn’t belonging or fear, but the reader."

The pic is Henry's sister, smiling army wife. "Chicks dig the uniform."  More here. Including these:

The Farrells and Hitchens, and "Learning by Doing"

Maria Farrell, like Hitchens, is honest.  And like Hitchens whether what she says is true or not –comporting with the facts–  is another matter. Her brother, like Packer, is dishonest. Both make a living as pedants, writing for an audience more than for themselves, imaging their own objectivity, blind to their own affect, false humility and self-importance. Nwanevu is a U. Chicago grad building a career. He has time to learn but won't.

The Independent:
War crimes court could investigate British army for first time over alleged civilian killings in Afghanistan and Iraq
When it comes to cosying up to alleged torturers in Afghanistan, the United States military has been a slow learner. 
The US-led NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan just published a photo of Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, sharing a laugh with Kandahar strongman Gen. Abdul Raziq, long accused of forcibly disappearing detainees and having his henchman drill holes in the heads of some of them. Raziq runs secret prisons where torture is rife, and he’s also been implicated in corruption involving cross-border smuggling and unpaid custom duties. Both the United Nations and Afghan human rights activists have accused Raziq’s forces of extrajudicial killings going back at least a decade.
Gilles Dorronsoro, Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present,  trans. John King, Columbia University Press, 2005 .
The role of the loya jirga, inaugurated by the former king Zahir Shah on 11 June 2002, was the transfer of the interim administration's authority to the Afghanistan Transitional Authority. There was inevitably some confusion, but the positions of the various delegates gravitated towards the exclusion of former ‘commanders' and to support for Zahir Shah. However, the crucial decisions and in particular the choice of Hamid Karzai, had already been taken by the Americans, at whose behest Zahir Shah was obliged to step aside. Actually a majority of the delegates appeared to be prepared to cast their votes for Zahir Shah, a development which would have blocked the election of the Americans’ candidate. For his part the king let it be known that he was ready to assume any responsibility which the loya jirga might wish to confer upon him, but in spite of this, shortly after the Loya jirga opened, the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad publicly denied that Zahir Shah intended to put himself forward, and confirmed that he would give his support to Hamid Karzai. Some hours later Zahir Shah fell into line with the US position at a press conference, where the only diplomatic observers present were Americans, and irrevocably renounced anything other than a ceremonial role. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"edenbaumstudio home"
Just like it says on the right side of the page.

The Process of Weeding Out, I and II 1984-5
The Process of Weeding Out III, 1986

Friday, January 17, 2020

repeats, because I can't get this stupidity out of my head.
"Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus" It means just what it says. Ferdinand I was a Catholic absolutist.
Justice is for and of god. Kant's twist is silly, Arendt's obliviousness to history is just odd. Spinoza was writing after Westphalia.

Arendt, Truth and Politics
The subject of these reflections is a commonplace. No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues. Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician's or the demagogue's but also of the statesman's trade. Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, and for the nature and the dignity of truth and truthfulness, on the other? Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent and of the very essence of power to be deceitful? And what kind of reality does truth possess if it is powerless in the public realm, which more than any other sphere of human life guarantees reality of existence to natal and mortal men–that is, to beings who know they have appeared out of non-being and will, after a short while, again disappear into it? Finally, is not impotent truth just as despicable as power that gives no heed to truth? These are uncomfortable questions, but they arise necessarily out of our current convictions in this matter.

What lends this commonplace its high plausibility can still be summed up in the old Latin adage "Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus" ("Let justice be done though the world may perish"). Apart from its probable author in the sixteenth century (Ferdinand I, successor to Charles V), no one has used it except as a rhetorical question: Should justice be done if the world's survival is at stake? And the only great thinker who dared to go against the grain of the question was Immanuel Kant, who boldly explained that the "proverbial saying ... means in simple language: 'Justice shall prevail, even though all the rascals in the world should perish as a result.' " Since men would not find it worth while to live in a world utterly deprived of justice, this "human right must be held sacred, regardless of how much sacrifice is required of the powers that be . . . regardless of what might be the physical consequences thereof."[1] But isn't this answer absurd? Doesn't the care for existence clearly precede everything else–every virtue and every principle? Is it not obvious that they become mere chimeras if the world, where alone they can be manifested, is in jeopardy? Wasn't the seventeenth century right when it almost unanimously declared that every commonwealth was duty bound to recognize, in Spinoza's words, "no higher law than the safety of [its] own realm"? [2] For surely every principle that transcends sheer existence can be put in the place of justice, anq if we put truth in its place–"Fiat veritas, et pereat mundus"–the old saying sounds even more plausible. If we understand political action in terms of the means-end category, we may even come to the only seemingly paradoxical conclusion that lying can very well serve to establish or safeguard the conditions for the search after truth–as Hobbes, whose relentless logic never fails to carry arguments to those extremes where their absurdity becomes obvious, pointed out long ago.[3] And lies, since they are often used as substitutes for more violent means, are apt to be considered relatively harmless tools in the arsenal of political action.

Reconsidering the old Latin saying, it will therefore come as something of a surprise that the sacrifice of truth for the survival of the world would be more futile than the sacrifice of any other principle or virtue. For while we may refuse even to ask ourselves whether life would still be worth living in a world deprived of such notions as justice and freedom, the same, curiously, is not possible with respect to the seemingly so much less political idea of truth. What is at stake is survival, the perseverance in existence (in suo esse perseverare), and no human world destined to outlast the short life span of mortals within it will ever be able to survive without men willing to do what Herodotus was the first to undertake consciously–namely λἐγειν τα ἐὀντα,  to say what is. No permanence, no perseverance in existence, can even be conceived of without men willing to testify to what is and appears to them because it is.
1. Eternal Peace, Appendix I 
2. I quote from Spinoza's Political Treatise because it is noteworthy that even
Spinoza, for whom the libertas philosophandi was the true end of government,
should have taken so radical a position. 
3. In the Leviathan (ch. 46) Hobbes explains that "disobedience may lawfully be
punished in them, that against the laws teach even true philosophy." For is not "leisure the mother of philosophy; and Commonwealth the mother of peace and leisure"? And does it not follow that the Commonwealth will act in the interest ofphilosophy when it suppresses a truth which undermines peace? Hence the truthteller, in order to cooperate in an enterprise which is so necessary for his own peace of body and decides to write what he knows "to be false philosophy." Of this Hobbes suspected Aristotle of all people, who according to him "writ it as a thing consonant to, and corroborative of [the Greeks'] religion; fearing the fate of Socrates." It never occurred to Hobbes that all search for truth would be self-defeating if its conditions could be guaranteed only by deliberate falsehoods. Then, indeed, everybody may turn out to be a liar like Hobbes' Aristode. Unlike this figment of Hobbes' logical fantasy, the real Aristotle was of course sensible enough to leave Athens when he came to fear the fate of Socrates; he was not wicked enough to write what he knew to be false, nor was he stupid enough to solve his problem of survival by destroying everything he stood for.
On Charles V
When he renounced his crown in 1555, retiring to a monastery he took nine of Titian’s paintings with him, including the monumental ‘Triumph of Faith”, La Gloria”, “and he is said to have looked at it in his dying days with such persistence and intensity of feeling that his doctors took fright.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020


Farnaz Fassihi (NYT) on twitter "Tehran billboard replaces Gen. Soleimani's photo with the names of victims perished in airplane tragedy."

Unimaginable in Saudi.

"Unforgivable" "Ashamed"

The New Yorker, 2013,
Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. “If you guys don’t stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!” he shouted. “When you’re ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me.” He stomped out of the room. “It was a great moment,” Crocker said.

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.” The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation.”

The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. “You completely damaged me,” Crocker recalled him saying. “Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation [SIC-pompous/pretention] of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.” The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. “We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”
WaPo Nov. 2018
Top Saudi intelligence officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked a small group of businessmen last year about using private companies to assassinate Iranian enemies of the kingdom, according to three people familiar with the discussions. 
The Saudis inquired at a time when Prince Mohammed, then the deputy crown prince and defense minister, was consolidating power and directing his advisers to escalate military and intelligence operations outside the kingdom. Their discussions, more than a year before the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, indicate that top Saudi officials have considered assassinations since the beginning of Prince Mohammed’s ascent.
Saudi officials have portrayed Mr. Khashoggi’s death as a rogue killing ordered by an official who has since been fired. But that official, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, was present for a meeting in March 2017 in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where the businessmen pitched a $2 billion plan to use private intelligence operatives to try to sabotage the Iranian economy. 
During the discussion, part of a series of meetings where the men tried to win Saudi funding for their plan, General Assiri’s top aides inquired about killing Qassim Suleimani, the leader of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and a man considered a determined enemy of Saudi Arabia. 
The interest in assassinations, covert operations and military campaigns like the war in Yemen — overseen by Prince Mohammed — is a change for the kingdom, which historically has avoided an adventurous foreign policy that could create instability and imperil Saudi Arabia’s comfortable position as one of the world’s largest oil suppliers. 
As for the businessmen, who had intelligence backgrounds, they saw their Iran plan both as a lucrative source of income and as a way to cripple a country that they and the Saudis considered a profound threat. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, arranged the meeting. He had met previously with Prince Mohammed, and had pitched the Iran plan to Trump White House officials. Another participant in the meetings was Joel Zamel, an Israeli with deep ties to his country’s intelligence and security agencies. 
Both Mr. Nader and Mr. Zamel are witnesses in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, and prosecutors have asked them about their discussions with American and Saudi officials about the Iran proposal. It is unclear how this line of inquiry fits into Mr. Mueller’s broader inquiry. In 2016, a company owned by Mr. Zamel, Psy-Group, had pitched the Trump campaign on a social media manipulation plan. 
A spokesman for the Saudi government declined to comment, as did lawyers for both Mr. Nader and Mr. Zamel. 
Old news. So boring.

Akbar Ganji in Foreign Affairs
Who Is Ali Khamenei?

Ted Koppel in the WSJ, April, 2011
The Arab Spring and U.S. Policy: The View From Jerusalem: Israeli officials want a public commitment from Washington to protect the Saudi regime should it come under threat.
Iran is a democracy compared to the Gulf states. That scares them more than anything else.
MBZ is Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE

Friday, December 20, 2019

working, reworking... the last paragraphs 12/22

"A teacher of mine, Abe Ajay, an arch modernist, a friend of Ad Reinhardt who worked with him at The New Masses, used to complain that Beethoven ruined his music with images. 'All those wonderful notes and then... Birds!!'"

In art as in philosophy the questions relating to mimesis are the same in 1950 as in 1906 and 1860. Abstraction means abstraction from.  The works of art acknowledged as the highpoints of the time record the same desperate stab at representation: the crises of Manet and Picasso reenacted on new ground. With few exceptions later  art concerned with the “tragic and timeless” is an art of intent, made of a few gestures done with an air of high seriousness. I can enjoy the works of the Zero school without asking them to carry more than their weight. Rauschenberg’s best early works have all the terror in the nightmares of a closeted Willy Loman, or a character out of Tennessee Williams, without the melodrama. His best works are figurative and crushingly intimate. But Barnett Newman’s paintings are claimed to be in the grand tradition, and the claim is hollow. My glib cocktail party version of this is seen in the two images, of Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis, from 1951, and a still from the last scene of John Ford’s 1956 film The Searchers.  Both are attempts at representation and the thematics are nearly identical: the individual in the American landscape.  But where one originates in the specific and resolves to something approaching grandeur, but a grandeur only allowed for after an acknowledgement of tragedy and irony, both concerning the story and the artifice of film, the other is unabashedly both grandly self-aggrandizing and grandly unspecific.  Of the two, Newman’s high art is the one that deals in the wishful thinking foundational to kitsch.  But it’s also foundational to Modernism itself.  Modernism is aspirational, and kitsch is the ultimate in aspirational logic: to dream is to succeed; pretense is reality.  But again there is the difference between aspiration—desire—and its description.  

Pollock is a harder case; but the literature on him as well is still caught up with the romance of overreach.  I’ve spent a lot of time with Clark’s Pollock in Farewell to an Idea[i] Overreach is what the book is about.  Writing on the 19th century Clark pulls ideas out of material substance, but by the 20th he begins to push them in.  Despite his protests it was clear by then that he was never as interested in the working class as he was in the revolution, and we know now they’re not the same thing.  Farewell to an idea (more than once I’ve written it as “Requiem…” ); so he has no problem transitioning from Pollock to Adolph Gottlieb.  Gottlieb ended as kitsch, and Pollock began with it: look at Guardians of the Secret.  But Pollock at his best made paintings that even as a child reminded me of Uccello.  I remember that because I always thought that was strange, and beautiful.  Clark’s language reenacts the crises of modernity as defined by Modernism. His recent book is as mannered as its subject. Farewell to an Idea is an elegy, and a fitting one, but it doesn’t answer my questions about Pollock.  

Pollock’s paintings are commonly associated with music, with ‘free’ jazz, Coltrane or Ornette Coleman. I’m going to take a different tack, not because jazz doesn’t is the obvious parallel, but because it is. But it’s not the parallel favored by the high-brow intellectuals of modernism: the philosophers, for whom the parallels need to be high-brow as well (and more serious than art.) 

Classical musicians are modern people performing a historical art. As with lawyers, historical research is part of the job. That’s the strength and weakness of  performance of the classical canon: the works are no longer part of a living tradition. The strength and weakness of jazz is that it developed in the shadow of a great but dying one. You get the sense that in the mid 20th  century of a  century of a mutual sense of jealously and even awe between the classically trained and the brilliant autodidacts (or their heirs), and tragedy mostly attached to the latter. The Swing era will be remembered as a brief period when people working in a popular form thought of themselves as making art without the need to capitalize the word. Like the great Hollywood films of the same era the art comes out of the craft through great effort but not fuss. I don’t think it’s worth arguing anymore than jazz produced the most important music of the first half of the 20th century. But for now this is a sidebar. I’m interested in historians and craftspeople as opposed to philosophers, and the best discussion I’ve found of the tension between expression and communication, between emotion and form, is an exchange between two pianists in the classical tradition known also as scholars, but not pedants. 
Alfred Brendel describes a moment in one of Beethoven’s piano sonatas when the “chains of music itself” are thrown off.  This moment comes as the end of a slow progression towards an aesthetic or anti-esthetic “musical self-immolation” Modernism has always flirted with self-immolation, in art and politics: the sloughing off of the physical mediating form in the desire for pure experience.  And in the context of communication, of human exchange, that pure experience is one of unification, of one person with another, with a group, or with “the absolute.”  I’m going to include a long passage from the exchange between Brendel and Charles Rosen in the New York Review because it both explicates and exemplifies the tensions of the Modernist relation to culture and the meaning of culture and cultural history in the modern era and the present.  It’s a wonderful exchange between two people fully engaged with—and within—the tradition they’re discussing.  And very clearly Pollock’s in there too.

Brendel: In Charles Rosen’s review of William Kinderman’s highly stimulating book on Beethoven [NYR, September 21], he raises a question about a quotation from one of my articles.  The context from which this quote is taken is readily available in my book Music Sounded Out (“Beethoven’s New Style,” page 71).  To sum it up: During the inversion of the fugue of opus 110, the constraints of polyphony are shaken off in a gradual process of foreshortening that is a feature of the movement’s return to life.  
…At the same time, the appearance of the augmented theme in its original, upward shape initiates a process of liquidation: when the basic key of A flat is reached, the texture has become virtually homophonic.  The goal of revival has been attained.  But Beethoven proceeds even further.  The lyrical hymn in A flat that carries the piece to its end becomes more and more euphoric until another, ultimate liberation is achieved: finally, after an exertion that surmounts two fortissimo diminished seventh chords, the “chains of music itself” are thrown off.  This last extreme effort amounts to a kind of musical self-immolation; it needs to be conveyed by the performance before silence takes over.  In my view, only an extreme metaphor could do it justice.

Rosen: I made no criticism of Alfred Brendel in my review.  I only wrote that I assumed he meant something specific by the grandiose expression “the chains of music itself”; I was reproaching William Kinderman (who occasionally writes program-notes for Brendel) with quoting from the work of other scholars out of context in a way that makes their phrases seem empty and pretentious.  There was, therefore, no reason to refer to Brendel’s book, although I am glad that it is readily available, since I was sure that the particular metaphor had some justification.  I agree that the lyric euphoria of the final page of opus 110 is extraordinary.  In his letter, however, Brendel has now added the additional metaphor of “musical self-immolation” which is less persuasive.  It is not so much its lack of clarity that is unfortunate (who is being immolated, Beethoven, the pianist, or the sonata itself?) but the Wagnerian resonance which can be applied to Beethoven only with a certain lack of tact.  Beethoven’s pretensions may be as great as Wagner’s, but they are less morbid and less coarse.[ii]

This is a conversation as I said from within a tradition, and an outsider is left to wonder what those last sentences with the words ‘tact,’ ‘morbid’ and ‘coarse’ even mean.  The definition of theology is the use of terms of objective knowledge in discussion based on subjectivity and sense.  But we live within our subjectivity and in this sense we live within theology. We can’t escape but we communicate, indeed the only way we do so, is by comparing terms.  

In fact Rosen’s letter made me laugh out loud and at the end I felt a shiver: the shiver I’ve felt watching great actors play with an audience.  Tact in Rosen’s sense is one’s proper relation to the question of the curtain in the Wizard of Oz; which one should maintain even knowing what’s behind it. And the shiver I felt is the shiver of recognition that the priest you’re arguing with is as much of an atheist or an ironist as you are, but that the fact of a godless world is nonetheless irrelevant. Rosen and Brendel are both arguing explicitly from within their culture because what they are each interested in, indeed preoccupied by, is not the truth value of that culture—or of culture as such—but its ability to foster a wide range of categories of event and experience. 

Imagine being asked to judge a poetry competition where the  entrants are asked to write on the same subject. Comparing the results you’re not comparing the poems’ relation to the objective truth of the idea, event, or object -their assigned subject- but the poets’ ability to build a complex and evocative description out of their perceptions and responses.  You’re not judging the ability to see a thing in absolute terms, but the ability of each poet to make you see what they see, which still must begin with the assumption that at a basic level you already do, since the object or theme has a common, public, form. From a simple commonality, a common denominator, a tea pot or spare tire, each participant is asked to develop a perspective which is then reformulated in language (returned) as a new and more complex common form.  The process is one of group mimesis,  collectively developed representation, through conversation and debate of individuals about the community and the world they share.  The external world -in an absolute sense- is secondary to the social, and to the method of description, the world as experienced and responded to in time. This is the foundation also of the rule of law. 

The vulgarity in Wagner and incipient in Beethoven—hence the need in Rosen’s terms for ‘tact’—is not the vulgarity of subject but of the composer’s assumptions about and attitude towards language.  Beethoven is in a line of gradation with Wagner, Gerome and Helmut Newton, in the sense that Wagner indulges a bombast that Beethoven at his best merely passionately describes.  Wagner’s music is written for Wagnerians in the same sense that Newton’s photographs are made for voyeurs, yet identification—as pseudo-community—is encouraged but not yet a requirement.  All communities are communities of selves and others.  Collective identity, as imaginary collective unity, is either a false—unrealizable—ideal, from fascism to The Singularity, or mere collective reflex: the community of tech geeks, fetishists and junkies. 

The experience of the sex act is social, formal, communicative, and if the world is seen as the social realm, world-creating.  The moment of orgasm as reflex is aformal, asocial (isolate), ecstatic and if the world is seen as social, world destructive.  Sex as performance is a form of communication; orgasm is artless.  The pretense of an ‘art’ of orgasm is vulgar.  The popular understanding of Pollock’s work is as an ‘act’ of ‘expression,’ as orgasm not structure.  Mondrian saw structure. The what and how of communication for Pollock’s work are complex; as complex in their way as the question of orgasm in Beethoven.  

What Rosen is debating with Brendel is the increasing presence of instrumentalism in form: the growing tendency to craft to reflex that reaches its apogee in the illustration and the false community of the fetish: of pure instrument.  Wagner is preaching to the choir (and Pollock is in there somewhere); Gerome is a soft-care pornographer playing to an audience, Newton and his audience are almost interchangeable, his form of communication identification with the masturbator, which is to say barely communication at all, one step away from the final shift, the final descent from interpersonal communication to masturbation in public.  

If communication is a circuit, reflex is a short.  The fantasy of the premature ejaculator is a state of eternal orgasm. It’s also the logic of the perfect economic man.  The mania for progress becomes no more than simply the desire to go faster.  If knowledge is measured in conclusions not in processes then the shortest distance between two points, the short circuit, is the obvious choice. Pornography and technical illustration is the model of art in a technocracy: immediate gratification. This is the crux of the struggle over the human imagination that begins in the 18th century, with the rise of idealist anti-humanism.  

In 2003, I asked Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale, if there were any discussion between legal scholars and musicologists and historians such as Richard Taruskin, known for criticizing theories of originalism in musical performance.  In the various overlapping intellectual interests that marked my childhood, the connection was taken as a given.  I still take too much for granted about what others take for granted, but Balkin was the right person to ask.  Here’s Taruskin, from his keynote address at the conference, “Law, Music and other Performing Arts” at U.T.  Austin in 2002

About ten years ago I received out of the blue an offprint of an article[iii] from the University Pennsylvania Law Review… by Professors Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas and Jack Balkin of Yale…. I read it with fascination and gratitude, the latter simply because the authors had so well understood the position I had taken in the debates about what was then known as authentic performance practice in music. My musical and musicological colleagues seemed unable to hear what I was really saying when I said that their ideas of historical performance practice, on which the claim of authenticity was based, derived from a selective reading of history in the service of a modern—or, more strongly, a Modernist—ideology. 
All works of art… are subject to social mediation.  It is, indeed, the price of living…. Ought it to require a musicologist and a pair of legal scholars to come up with such a truism?  Maybe not, but apparently it does.[iv]

If all communication is communication among individuals through mediating forms -of which language is the prime example- then beyond the most rudimentary functions we operate always on speculative induction and generalization, and we should be clear: we build most often on foundations of desire and hot air.  Only in language can you live on the 10th floor of a building that doesn’t reach the ground.  It amazes me that philosophers have built careers without having to respond to our model of the law as formalized adversarialism: mandated moral semi-consciousness. My ignorance is why I took for granted that more than one or two scholars of constitutional law would have read Taruskin. I assumed philosophers understand that we’ve chosen the rule of law because we understood the dangers of the rule of reason. 

Having grown up around lawyers and literature professors –readers of fiction– debates over rationalism and irrationalism left me almost speechless. I’d forgotten that Plato hated lawyers as much he hated poets, and that his ideal was Sparta. The rule of law is the rule of public language and the public description of the world. Under the rule of reason justice is ad hoc, devolving always into the rule of the reasonable as defined by the strong. 

Taruskin is a musicologist. Brendel and Rosen are performers who write criticism, and as soloists are advocates for the causes that they choose.  Jobbing lawyers, like orchestra players, don’t always have a choice.  From the NY Times obituary of John Mortimer, Barrister and novelist, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey

Doing these cases,” he wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate.  I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying.  I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.”[v]

How in the context of modern social life does one make a statement or a proposition that acknowledges both the integrity of that statement—the speaker’s desire that it be ‘true’—and the possibility, most often the fact, that it doesn’t operate on that universal level?  How do we manage irony and belief, and the dual imperatives of integrity and sociability?  The passage above is the statement of a man who spent his life as a performer in the theater of law.  He understood the question, and his career was predicated on the response most of us take too much for granted to ever bother articulating.  Taruskin on the other hand, defending the “authenticity” of performing in and for the present,  defends censorship, even to the point of  arguing that we should stop listening to Prokofiev, regardless of the music itself, simply because he worked for Stalin.[vi] By his logic the greatest art of Europe, or any other culture beyond a few tribes of hunter gatherers, should be in deep storage. Concert halls should be silent. In his arguments with Rosen[vii] and Daniel Barenboim[viii], both get the better of him easily. Taruskin: “As one who regards Rosen’s literary output—all of it—as Cold War propaganda…”[ix]  Rosen replies[x], but it’s not worth the effort to go into details.  I’d argue with all of them that Schoenberg’s serialism was a desperate attempt to escape becoming a Hollywood competitor of Erich Korngold, famous for Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood –listening to Verklarte Nacht, I can’t help seeing Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland– and that Milton Babbitt’s music and  writing, “Who Cares if you Listen”[xi] aka “The Composer as Specialist”[xii] (a title too perfect by half) fit with every example of post war rationalism I’ve described: scholastic formalism, positivism, erudition as art, dead ends imagined as progress.  I’d argue that there are “bad” or “inappropriate” ways to play Bach, as there are “bad” or “inappropriate” ways to interpret the constitution. But those are arguments to be made and answered in debate, and censorship is refusing to argue and then demanding others do the same. No one mentioned above would disagree with Taruskin’s critique of originalism, just as none of them would agree with Babbitt’s diktats. Rosen was a friend and performer of his music, but he wasn’t a follower; Babbitt lost his argument from authority well before he died. Take away the positivistic moralism and the work is left to stand on its own, and the description and manifestation of a kind of desire, from a place and time. It will stand or fall as record or relic. In the end the terms are not Babbitt’s or Taruskin’s. History is the judge.  

Joseph Kerman on Babbitt the theorist.

His writing of the 1950s had developed into a strange amalgam. Conjoined with a fanatical scientism, a search for quasi-logical precision of reference which tortured his syntax into increasingly Jamesian spirals for very un-Jamesian ends, there was an undertone of distress, even rage, erupting into repeated assaults and innuendos directed against various predictable targets. This scarcely contained emotion issued obviously (and openly enough) from the same sense of modernist alienation as was expressed very differently by Schoenberg or, to take an even more extravagant case, Adorno. But while Adorno was telling anyone who would listen at Darmstadt and Donaueschingen that modern music was decisively cut off from decadent bourgeois culture, Babbitt at Princeton was pointing out that avant-garde music could find its niche after all – though only by retreating from one bastion of middle class culture, the concert hall, to another, the university. Like pure science, he argued, musical composition has a claim on the university as a protector of abstract thought. (The complicity of composition and theory, it will be seen, was crucial to this argument, the complicity of theory and mathematics extremely helpful.) Instead of lamenting the no-doubt irreparable breach between avant-garde music and the public, composers like mathematicians should turn their backs on the public and demand their rightful place in the academy. Otherwise ‘music will cease to evolve, and in that important sense, will cease to live'.[xiii]

“Jamesian spirals for very un-Jamesian ends.” Kerman restates my arguments, marking the same line from the subjective but impersonal to the ‘objective’, formality to formalism, elision to denial, from bourgeois culture to technocratic anti-culture. But he ignores that Babbitt’s and Adorno’s prescriptions are variations of the same institutionalism, with the same positivist, Weberian, contempt for art. If Babbitt’s art succeeds it succeeds in spite of this. The undertones in his essays,  "of distress, even rage, erupting into repeated assaults” is matched in his music. The parallel is not science or mathematics but the other art music of its time: free Jazz. Formal logic is a cover.

Expressionism in the atomic age is the product of technocracy and the bomb, the emotion escaping the denial of emotion; it's the melodrama behind positivism, from Vienna to Weimar to New York, the relation of Strangelove to von Neumann. This is what Brendel and Rosen, and Kerman, as exegetes, interpreters not pedants, who are neither positivists nor emotionalists, rationalists nor irrationalists, are describing and debating. If music is formal, how can a gesture that breaks with the form, function within it? Rosen says Brendel defends farting in Church; he misses the logic behind the change. If Beethoven puts an explosion at the end of the metrical line, then formal art has become mimetic. One of my teachers, Abe Ajay, an arch modernist, a friend of Ad Reinhardt who worked with him at The New Masses, used to complain that Beethoven ruined his music with images. "All those wonderful notes and then... Birds!!" Abe wasn’t joking, but I laughed. This is what Schoenberg and Babbitt rebelled against, not Beethoven but the only option for those following him into the 20th century: the vulgar romance of Korngold and the program music of Hollywood, music of the classical western tradition no longer independent, now subservient to another form, the art of images. 

[i] T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism, Yale University Press, 1999
[ii] Letters, New York Review of Books, Volume 42, Number 18, Nov. 16 1995
[iii] Sanford Levinson and J. M. Balkin, “Law, Music, and Other Performing Arts”. 139 U. Pa. Law Rev. 1597 (1991) Available on the web:
[iv] Richard Taruskin, The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, California, 2008
[v] Helen T.  Verongos  “John Mortimer, Barrister and Writer Who Created Rumpole, Dies at 85”,
NY Times,  Jan 17, 2009
[vi]  Taruskin, “Prokofiev, Hail... and Farewell?”, New York Times, April 21 1991;  
Taruskin, On Russian Music, University of California Press, 2010, p. 10
[vii]  Rosen "From the Troubadours to Frank Sinatra" (two parts), New York Review of Books, February 23, and March 9 2006. 
[viii]  Daniel Barenboim, “Music’s Dangers; An Infringement”, New York Times Dec 23, 2001
[ix]  Taruskin, “Afterword: Nicht blutbefleckt?” The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 26, Issue 2 Spring 2009.
[x]  Rosen, “Music and the Cold War”, New York Review of Books, April 7, 2011
[xi]  Milton Babbitt, “Who cares if you listen?”, High Fidelity, Feb. 1958
[xii]  Anthony Tommasini, “Finding Still More Life in a 'Dead' Idiom”, The New York Times,  October 6, 1996
[xiii] Joseph Kerman, Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology,  Harvard University Press, 1986  p. 101