Monday, April 25, 2005

Over the last few days...

I'd meant to write about this after Brian Leiter linked to it, and now the article itself is gone 'pay per view.' Here's the Amazon link to the book. It sounds silly: just another example of someone with an opinion about how things should be done who doesn't even bother to understand how they are.
And here Nathan Newman continues his occasional defense of majority rule (and against judicial review.) Not that I'm going to do this now, I'm too tired, but it might be interesting to compare Nathan's opinions to those of the intellectual leftist-aristocrats I linked to in the last post

I think everyone here misses the point. There is always, and always should be, a tension between expertise and common sense, between the will of the people and the knowledge of the few. That tension will always be institutionalized in some way or another. Nathan is a lawyer and a college professor, and he wasn't elected to either position by popular vote.

There's a good article on John Brown in the NY Review this week (another link behind the $3 curtain.) His death precipitated a change, a hardening, in the attitudes of many white northerners in the months before the civil war. Brown may have understood this and turned his raid on Harpers Ferry, once it was clear that it had failed, into a suicide mission.

Brown was an outlier, a radical statistically as well as politically, and he was arguably a more directly moral man than Lincoln. But the fact that Brown was simply right in his absolute condemnation of slavery and of slaveholders does not make him a 'greater' man than Lincoln. Lincoln's moderation, his political and rhetorical expertise, even considered as partially corrupt make him the more interesting and complex figure precisely because Lincoln could communicate with those for whom Brown would have no patience. Lincoln was more representative of the complexities of the white American imagnation. Brown, may have led the way to a certain degree but he did not 'belong.'

The only reason John Brown's ideas surprise us is that he's white. His is the fanaticism of the slaveholder's brother, not the anger of the slave. Frederick Douglass thought the raid was much too dangerous. The genius of Lincoln stems from his relationship, as belonging, to the dominant moderate party- moderate only in its own terms- of white America, and to the dominant language of Amercan culture.

Modernism celebrated the radical individual as understanding things others do not. But how can individualism represent an idea of community?
Language is in independent entity of our own creation. It is the result of a collective action, but we can only define ourselves as individuals in terms of our relationship to it. How would we define 'speed' other than in terms of measurements of space and time: miles-per-hour. There is no terminology for describing the individual that is not defined in relationship to a community. When I get annoyed at Brian Leiter or pissed off at Brad DeLong, or mock the next generation of academic leftists, it's precisely because they refuse to accept that their language and their ideas are in conflict, and that the former gives us a much more honest representation of their thought processes than their ideas -as ideas- ever will. I'm tired of people who fantacize their relations to their own statements.

Any communicative act first and foremost describes the performer of the act in the context of the preexisiting social and political community of language. Only after that does it present the meaning -as intention- of the actor. As an old friend of mine says about a mutual aquaintance, whom I find it almost unbearable to be around:
"He doesn't know that he has an unconscious!"
J. understands my response, but doesn't share it. He laughs.

Enough for now.
The right wing punditocracy is a bit sheepish about Bolton because it seems clear his job was to do just what they've been saying the White House never did: politicize intelligence. Laura Rozen and the rest are a bit slow on the uptake.

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