Thursday, December 31, 2020

In fact, Brandt never said it - at least not there on that balcony of the Schöneberg city hall, where he appeared with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Speaking to a tearful crowd and almost drowned out by cries of "Willy, Willy," the former chancellor and honorary SPD chairman actually talked about Europe, not Germany, growing together - and in significantly vaguer terms. Only later - long after the statement had become one of the key tenets of the reunification process - did historians revisit the famous speech and establish that Brandt had been misquoted. Nor does the quote appear in his memoirs. The words were actually uttered in off-the-cuff newspaper interviews that took place either before or after the speech and only later attracted attention. At the time, editors failed to appreciate their import and opted to lead with other, more general quotes from the balcony speech.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes
CHAPTER FOUR, The Fall of Liberalism

The rise of the radical Right after the First World War was undoubtedly a response to the danger, indeed to the reality, of social revolution and working-class power in general, to the October revolution and Leninism in particular. Without these, there would have been no fascism, for though the demagogic Right-wing Ultras had been politically vocal and aggressive in a number of European countries since the end of the nineteenth century, they had almost invariably been kept well under control before 1914. To this extent apologists for fascism are probably right in holding that Lenin engendered Mussolini and Hitler. However, it is entirely illegitimate to exculpate fascist barbarism by claiming that it was inspired by and imitated the allegedly earlier barbarities of the Russian Revolution, as some German historians came close to doing in the 19803 (Nolte, 1987). 

However, two important qualifications must be made to the thesis that the Right backlash was essentially a response to the revolutionary Left. First, it underestimates the impact of the First World War on an important stratum of, largely middle and lower middle-class, nationalist soldiers or young men who, after November 1918, resented their missed chance of heroism. The so-called ‘front-line soldier’ (frontsoldat) was to play a most important part in the mythology of radical-Right movements — Hitler was one himself — and it was to provide a substantial bloc of the first ultra-nationalist strong-arm squads, such as the officers who murdered the German communist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in early 1919, the Italian squadristi and German freikorps. Fifty-seven per cent of the early Italian fascists were ex-servicemen. As we have seen, the First World War was a machine for brutalizing the world, and these men gloried in the release of of their latent brutality. 

The strong commitment of the Left, from the liberals onwards, to anti-war and anti-militarist movements, the huge popular revulsion against the mass killing of the First World War, led many to underestimate the emergence of a relatively small, but absolutely numerous, minority for whom the experience of fighting, even under the conditions of 1914-18, was central and inspirational; for whom uniform and discipline, sacrifice — of self and others  and blood, arms and power were what made masculine life worth living. They did not write many books about the war, though (especially in Germany) one or two did. These Rambos of their time were natural recruits for the radical Right.

The second qualification is that the Right-wing backlash responded not against Bolshevism as such, but against all movements, and notably the organized working class, which threatened the existing order of society or could be blamed for its breakdown. Lenin was the symbol of this threat rather than the actual reality, which, for most politicians, was represented not so much by the socialist labour parties, whose leaders were moderate enough, but by the upsurge of working-class power, confidence and radicalism, which gave the old socialist parties a new political force and, in fact, made them the indispensable props of liberal states. It is no accident that in the immediate post-war years the central demand of socialist agitators since 1889 was conceded almost everywhere in Europe: the eight-hour day.

It was the threat implicit in the rise of labour’s power which froze the blood of conservatives, rather than the mere transformation of labour union leaders and opposition orators into government ministers, though this was bitter enough. They belonged by definition to ‘the Left’. In an era of social upheaval, no clear line divided them from the Bolsheviks. Indeed, many of the socialist parties would have happily joined the communists in the immediate post-war years, had these not rejected their affiliation. The man whom Mussolini had assassinated after his ‘March on Rome’ was not a CP leader but the Socialist, Matteotti. The traditional Right may have seen godless Russia as the embodiment of all that was evil in the world, but the rising of the Generals in 1936 was not directed against the communists as such if only because these were the smallest part of the Popular Front (see chapter 5). It was directed against a popular upsurge which, until the Civil War, favoured Socialists and Anarchists. It is an ex post facto rationalization which makes Lenin and Stalin the excuse for fascism.

And yet, what must be explained is why the Right-wing backlash after the First World War won its crucial victories in the form of fascism. For extremist movements of the ultra-Right had existed before 1914 — hysterically nationalist and xenophobic, idealising war and violence, intolerant and given to strong-arm coercion, passionately anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-proletarian, anti-socialist and anti-rationalist, dreaming of blood and soil and a return to the values which modernity was disrupting. They had some political influence, within the political Right, and in some intellectual circles, but nowhere did they dominate or control.

What gave them their chance after the First World War, was the collapse of the old regimes and, with them, of the old ruling classes and their machinery of power, influence and hegemony. Where these remained in good working order, there was no need for fascism. It made no progress in Britain, in spite of the brief flurry of nerves noted above. The traditional Conservative Right remained in control. It made no effective progress in France until after the defeat of 1940. Though the traditional French radical Right — the monarchist Action Francaise and Colonel La Rocque’s Croix de Feu (Fiery Cross) — were ready enough to beat up Leftists, it was not strictly fascist. Indeed, some elements of it would even join the Resistance.

Again, fascism was not needed where a new nationalist ruling class or group could take over in newly independent countries. These men could be reactionary and might well opt for authoritarian government, for reasons to be considered below, but it was rhetoric that identified every turn to the antidemocratic Right in Europe between the wars with fascism. There were no fascist movements of importance in the new Poland, which was run by authoritarian militarists and in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, which was democratic, nor in the (dominant) Serbian core of the new Yugoslavia. Where significant fascist or similar movements existed in countries whose rulers were old- fashioned Right-wingers or reactionaries — in Hungary, Rumania, Finland, even in Franco Spain, whose leader was not himself a fascist — they had little trouble in keeping them under control unless (as in Hungary in 1944) the Germans put the screw on them. This does not mean that minority nationalist movements in old or new states might not find fascism attractive, if only because they could expect financial and political support from Italy and, after 1933, from Germany. This was clearly so in (Belgian) Flanders, in Slovakia and in Croatia.

The optimal conditions for the triumph of the crazy ultra-Right were an old state and its ruling mechanisms which could no longer function; a mass of disenchanted, disoriented and discontented citizens who no longer knew where their loyalties lay; strong socialist movements threatening or appearing to threaten social revolution, but not actually in a position to achieve it; and a move of nationalist resentment against the peace treaties of 1918-20. These were the conditions in which helpless old ruling elites were tempted to have recourse to the ultra-radicals, as the Italian Liberals did to Mussolini’s fascists in 1920-22 and as the German Conservatives did to Hitler’s National Socialists in 1932-33. These, by the same token, were the conditions that turned movements of the radical Right into powerful organized and sometimes uniformed and paramilitary forces (squadristi; storm-troopers) or, as in Germany during the Great Slump, into massive electoral armies. However, in neither of the two fascist states did fascism ‘conquer power’, though in both Italy and Germany it made much of the rhetoric of ‘capturing the street’ and ‘marching on Rome’. In both cases fascism came to power by the connivance of, indeed (as in Italy) on the initiative of, the old regime, that is to say in a ‘constitutional’ fashion.

The novelty of fascism was that, once in power, it refused to play the old political games, and took over completely where it could. The total transfer of power, or the elimination of all rivals, took rather longer in Italy (1922-28) than in Germany (1933-34) but, once it was achieved, there were no further internal political limits on what became, characteristically, the untrammeled dictatorship of a supreme populist ‘leader’ (Duce; Fuhrer).

At this point we must briefly dismiss two equally inadequate theses about fascism, the one fascist, but taken over by many liberal historians, the other dear to orthodox Soviet Marxism. There was no ‘fascist revolution’ and neither was fascism the expression of ‘monopoly capitalism’ or big business.

Fascist movements had the elements of revolutionary movements, inasmuch as they contained people who wanted a fundamental transformation of society, often with a notably anti-capitalist and anti-oligarchic edge. However, the horse of revolutionary fascism failed either to start or to run. Hitler rapidly eliminated those who took the ‘socialist’ component in the name of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party seriously - as he certainly did not. The utOpia of a return to some kind of little man’s Middle Ages, full of hereditary peasant-proprietors, artisan craftsmen like Hans Sachs and girls in blonde plaits, was not a programme that could be realized in major twentieth-century states (except in the nightmare version of Himmler’s plans for a racially purified people), least of all in regimes which, like Italian and German Fascism, were committed in their way to modernisation and technological advance.

What National Socialism certainly achieved was a radical purging of the old Imperial elites and institutional structures. After all, the only group which actually launched a revolt against Hitler — and was consequently decimated — was the old aristocratic Prussian army in July 1944. This destruction of the old elites and the old frameworks, reinforced after the war by the policies of the occupying Western armies, was eventually to make it possible to build the Federal Republic on a much sounder basis than the Weimar Republic of 1918-33, which had been little more than the defeated empire minus the Kaiser. Nazism certainly had, and partly achieved, a social programme for the masses: holidays; sports; the planned ‘people’s car’, which the world came to know after the Second World War as the Volkswagen ‘beetle’. Its chief achievement, however, was to liquidate the Great Slump more effectively than any other government, for the anti-liberalism of the Nazis had the positive side that it did not commit them to an a priori belief in the free market. Nevertheless, Nazism was a revamped and revitalized old regime rather than a basically new and different one. Like the imperial and militarist Japan of the 1930s (which nobody would claim to have been a revolutionary system), it was a non-liberal capitalist economy which achieved a striking dynamization of its industrial system. The economic and other achievements of fascist Italy were considerably less impressive, as was demonstrated in the Second World War. Its war economy was unusually feeble. Talk of a ‘fascist revolution’ was rhetoric, though no doubt for many Italian rank-and-file fascists sincere rhetoric. It was much more openly a regime in the interests of the old ruling classes, having come into existence as a defence against post-1918 revolutionary unrest rather than, like in Germany, as a reaction to the traumas of the Great Slump and the inability of Weimar governments to cope with them. Italian fascism, which in one sense carried on the process of Italian unification from the nineteenth century, thus producing a stronger and more centralized government, had some significant achievements to its credit. It was, for instance, the only Italian regime successfully to suppress the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra. Yet its historical significance lay, not in its aims and achievements, but in its role as the global pioneer of a new version of the triumphant counter-revolution. Mussolini inspired Hitler, and Hitler never failed to acknowledge Italian inspiration and priority. On the other hand Italian fascism was, and for a long time remained, an anomaly among radical Right- wing movements in its toleration of, even a certain taste for, artistic avantgarde ‘modernism’, and in some other respects – notably, until Mussolini fell into line with Germany in 1938, a complete lack of interest in anti-semitic racism.

As for the ‘monopoly capitalist’ thesis, the point about really big business is that it can come to terms with any regime that does not actually expropriate it, and any regime must come to terms with it. Fascism was no more ‘the expression of the interests of monopoly capital’ than the American New Deal or British Labour governments, or the Weimar Republic. Big business in the early 19305 did not particularly want Hitler, and would have preferred more orthodox conservatism. It gave him little support until the Great Slump, and even then support was late and patchy. However, when he came to power, business collaborated wholeheartedly, up to the point of using slave labour and extermination camp labour for its operations during the Second World War. Large and small business, of course, benefited from the expropriation of the Jews.

It must nevertheless be said that fascism had some major advantages for business over other regimes. First, it eliminated or defeated Left-wing social revolution, and indeed seemed to be the main bulwark against it. Second, it eliminated labour unions and other limitations on the rights of management to manage its workforce. Indeed, the fascist ‘leadership principle’ was what most bosses and business executives applied to their subordinates in their own businesses and fascism gave it authoritative justification. Third, the destruction of labour movements helped to secure an unduly favourable solution of the Depression for business. Whereas in the USA the top 5 per cent of consuming units between 1929 and 1941 saw their share of total (national) income fall by 20 per cent (there was a similar but more modest egalitarian trend in Britain and Scandinavia), in Germany the top 5 per cent gained 15 per cent during the comparable period (Kuznets, 1956). Finally, as already noted, fascism was good at dynamising and modernising industrial economies — although actually not as good at adventurous and long-term techno- scientific planning as the Western democracies.

Friday, December 25, 2020



There’s a lady I’ve been thinking about for the past few days, even though we’ve never met. She’s the central character in a true story told by the Europe expert Anand Menon. He was in Newcastle just before the referendum to debate the impact of Britain leaving the EU. Invoking the gods of economics, the King’s College London professor invited the audience to imagine the likely plunge in the UK’s GDP. Back yelled the woman: “That’s your bloody GDP. Not ours.”


Take out Greater London—the prosperity of which depends to an uncomfortable degree on servicing oligarchs from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union—and the U.K. is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.

From my twitter days

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"No society that still has traces of the old tripartite division of humanity into those who pray, those who fight, and those who labor can be liberal." Shklar "The Liberalism of Fear"

Liberalism is defined by the tripartite division of those who fight, and those who labor, and those who think.

"Of all the cases made against liberalism, the most bizarre is that liberals are really indifferent, if not openly hostile, to personal freedom."

What a fucking idiot.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Kant, Metaphysics of Morals


But, it will be asked, why do I introduce a division of ethics into a Doctrine of Elements and a Doctrine of Method, when no such division was needed in the doctrine of right? - The reason is that the doctrine of right has to do only with narrow duties, whereas ethics has to do with wide duties. Hence the doctrine of right, which by its nature must determine duties strictly (precisely), has no more need of general directions (a method) as to how to proceed in judging than does pure mathematics; instead, it certifies its method by what it does. - But ethics, because of the latitude it allows in its imperfect duties, unavoidably leads to questions that call upon judgment to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases, and indeed in such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim (and one can always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to cases that may arise). So ethics falls into a casuistry, which has no place in the doctrine of right.

Casuistry is, accordingly, neither a science nor a part of a science; for in that case it would be dogmatics, and casuistry is not so much a doctrine about how to find something as rather a practice in how to seek truth. So it is woven into ethics in a  fragmentary way, not systematically (as dogmatics would have to be), and is added to ethics only by way of scholia to the system.

On the other hand, the Doctrine of Method of morally practical reason, which deals not so much with judgment as with reason and its exercise in both the theory and the practice of its duties, belongs to ethics in particular. The first exercise of it consists in questioning the pupil about what he already knows of concepts of duty, and may be called the erotetic method. If he knows this because he has previously been told it, so that now it is drawn merely from his memory, the method is called the catechistic method proper; but if it is assumed that this is already present naturally in the pupil's reason and needs only to be developed' from it, the method is called that of dialogue (Socratic method). Catechizing, as exercise in theory, has ascetics for its practical counterpart. Ascetics is that part of the doctrine of method in which is taught not only the concept of virtue but also how to put into practice and cultivate the capacity for as well as the will to virtue. 

neo-Kantianism in the German humanists. Kant's separation of justice and virtue: the individual burden of choice. Arendt: the social and the political; the private and the public. Kant's murderer at the door: if the categorical imperative becomes justice but not virtue, we choose the latter.  Kant writes openly from within the community of human beings, not claiming to be above it. They all share the acceptance of the prior: the human. For all the pedantry that philosophers share, he goes to a point and stops.

Is all that is just pious?  

"TO TALK ABOUT and inquire into Kant's political philosophy has its difficulties. Unlike so many other philosophers—Plato, Aris­totle, Augustine, Thomas, Spinoza, Hegel, and others—he never wrote a political philosophy."

Arendt, Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy 

...At this point, however, we are bound to mention at least the curiously difficult problem of the relationship between politics and philosophy or, rather, the attitude philosophers are likely to have toward the whole political realm. To be sure, other philos­ophers did what Kant did not do: they wrote political philosophies; but this does not mean that they therefore had a higher opinion of it or that political concerns were more central to their philosophy. The examples are too numerous even to begin to quote. But Plato clearly wrote the Republic to justify the notion that philosophers should become kings, not because they would enjoy politics, but because, first, this would mean that they would not be ruled by people worse than they were themselves and, second, it would bring about in the commonwealth that com­ plete quiet, that absolute peace, that certainly constitutes the best condition for the life of the philosopher. Aristotle did not follow Plato, but even he held that the bios politikos in the last analysis was there for the sake of the bios theōrētikos; and, as far as the philosopher himself was concerned, he said explicitly, even in the Politics, that only philosophy permits men di' hauton chairein, to enjoy themselves independently, without the help or presence of others,42 whereby it was self-understood that such indepen­dence, or rather self-sufficiency, was among the greatest goods. (To be sure, according to Aristotle, only an active life can assure happiness; but such "action" "need not be . . . a life which in­ volves relations to others" if it consists in "thoughts and trains of reflections" that are independent and complete in themselves.)43 Spinoza said in the very title of one of his political treatises that his ultimate aim in it was not political but the libertas philosophandi; and even Hobbes, who certainly was closer to political concerns than any other author of a political philosophy (and neither Machiavelli nor Bodin nor Montesquieu can be said to have been concerned with philosophy), wrote his Leviathan in order to ward off the dangers of politics and to assure as much peace and tranquillity as was humanly possible. All of them, with the possible exception of Hobbes, would have agreed with Plato: Do not take this whole realm of human affairs too seriously. And Pascal's words on these matters, written in the vein of French moralists, hence irreverent, fresh in both meanings of the word, and sarcastic, may have exaggerated the matter a bit but did not miss the mark: 

We can only think of Plato and Aristotle in grand academic robes. They were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and when they wanted to divert themselves, they wrote the Laws or the Politics, to amuse themselves. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious. The most philosophic [thing] was to live simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics, it was as if laying down rules for a lunatic asylum; if they presented the appearance of speaking of great matters, it was because they knew that the madmen, to whom they spoke, thought they were kings and emperors. They entered into their principles in order to make their madness as little harmful as possible.44 

Fourth Session 

I READ TO YOU a "thought" of Pascal in order to draw your atten­ tion to the relation between philosophy and politics or, rather, to the attitude nearly all philosophers have had toward the realm of human affairs (ta tōn anthrōpōn pragmata). Robert Cumming recently wrote: "The subject-matter of modern political philoso­phy . . . is not the polis or its politics, but the relation between philosophy and politics."45 This remark actually applies to all political philosophy and, most of all, to its beginnings in Athens. 

If we consider Kant's relation to politics from this general perspective–that is, not attributing to him alone what is a general characteristic, a déformation professionnelle–we shall find certain agreements and certain very important divergences. The main and most striking agreement is in the attitude toward life and death. You will remember that Plato said that only his body still inhabited the City and, in the Phaedo, also explained how right ordinary people are when they say that a philosopher's life is like dying.46 Death, being the separation of body and soul, is welcome to him; he is somehow in love with death, because the body, with all its demands, constantly interrupts the soul's pursuits. 47 In other words, the true philosopher does not accept the conditions under which life has been given to man. This is not just a whim of Plato, and not just his hostility to the body. It is implicit in Parmenides' trip to the heavens to escape "the opin­ions of mortals" and the delusions of sense experience, and it is implicit in Heraclitus' withdrawal from his fellow citizens and in those who, asked about their true home, pointed toward the skies; that is, it is implicit in the beginnings of philosophy in Ionia. And if, with the Romans, we understand being alive as synonymous with inter homines esse (and sinere inter homines esse as being dead), then we have the first important clue to the sectar­ian tendencies in philosophy since the time of Pythagoras: withdrawal into a sect is the second-best cure for being alive at all and having to live among men. Most surprisingly, we find a similar position in Socrates, who, after all, brought philosophy down from the heavens to earth; in the Apology, likening death to a dreamless sleep, he states that even the great king of Persia would find it difficult to remember many days or nights he had spent better or more pleasantly than a single night in which his sleep was undisturbed by dreams.48

42. Aristotle, Politics 1267a10 ff.
43. Ibid., 1325b15 ff.
44. Blaise Pascal, Pensees, no. 331 , trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958)
45. Robert D. Cumming, Human Nature and History: A Study of the Development of Liberal Political Thought (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1969), vol. 2, p. 16.
46. Phaedo 64.
47. Ibid. 67. 
48. Apology 40.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Arendt's distinction between Social and Political.

An argument made by a person raised with the distinction between means of address: Sie and du,  formal and informal. But both are equally formal: equally coded. The issue is less the distinction between social and political than the collapse of formal acknowledgment of the distinction between self and other, between individuals as such

 "Legitimate Parental Partiality"  Friendship is anti-egalitarian.

Immigrants and voting. No surprises.

By 2000, the Muslim community in America was several decades old, and had started to mature as a political entity. Muslim organizations almost unanimously endorsed George W. Bush. I voted for Bush that year. I would have voted for Bob Dole in 1996 if I weren’t so busy with medical school that I forgot to vote; I would have voted for Bush Sr. in 1992 if I weren’t still 17-years-old.

In the 2000 election, approximately 70 percent of Muslims in America voted for Bush; among non-African-American Muslims, the ratio was over 80 percent.

I've said it all before 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Martin Jay, "Adorno in America." 1984

Rather than reduce Adorno to any one star in his constellation, be it Western Marxist, elitist mandarin, aesthetic modernist, or whatever, we must credit all of them with the often contradictory power they had in shaping his idiosyncratic variant of Critical Theory. 

Adorno was a Western Marxist, elitist mandarin, aesthetic modernist. If he could be read as any one alone, he'd have been forgotten. 

If you can't read a text against itself you're reading for work, like a bureaucrat reading a report. It's private reason. Adorno was a conservative. Like Eliot in his office, he's a Burkean bureaucrat, a pedant of historical romance. Wallace Stevens was Mallarmé as an insurance executive. These are contradictions that can only be resolved as art.   

repeats. "Doing philosophy

Although he took a keen interest in the great British philosophers - he later discovered and edited some new letters by Hume - he shared Cassirer's dismay at the blinkered approach of the analytical philosophers who dominated the Oxford scene: ignoring the historical context of thinkers such as Leibniz, the only thing they wanted to know was whether his statements were true according to their own criteria.

Overall, Seaford’s book is interesting, insightful, and combines expertise in ancient sources with careful reasoning. It certainly offers an invaluable discussion of the origins and cultural contexts of early Greek philosophy. But Seaford’s concern with the historical explanations of Greek philosophy suggests that his book may not appeal to scholars interested exclusively in the philosophical content and argumentation of Presocratic texts. The author often explicitly minimizes intellectual explanations of a philosopher’s views in favor of socio-political, religious, and psychological factors (219; 253–4; 273). In fact, he insists that comprehending the relevant cultural factors is necessary for understanding Presocratic metaphysics. We must, he maintains, avoid treating ancient philosophy as if it were created in a “historical vacuum” (10), even if this threatens most Presocratic scholars' "control of their subject and the autonomy of 'doing philosophy'"

And again

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Stranger, (again) and Vagabond 
From technocracy to neoliberalism and libertarianism, from methodological to ideological individualism, and the dismissal of lived individual life, the primacy of generalization, of measuring to the mean, and then, finally, the rediscovery of experience, through the "artisanal" and "bespoke"; the snobbish contempt for mere craft becoming a snobbish celebration of it, and the new intellectuals of the new upper west side, discover the social, as a concept
"We Live in a Society Organization is the entire question"
I've said it all before. My arguments haven't changed since the 80s. The liberals of 1992 who became the liberals of 2002 now are the socialists of 2020. And they still don't know what it means to be social.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Remember, Nwanevu hates politics and loves "truth" 

"But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject." Ursula K. Le Guin

“I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying." John Mortimer

"...imagine if that one taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks, and i had seen that too. isnt that interesting? isnt it important to understand who they are? and most importantly, wouldnt it make for a fun read?" Nir Rosen.

Form and content. repeats. start here. also here [for Rosen] and here.

The second link includes a story about a lawyer in federal criminal defense: drugs and guns. I thought I'd told the whole story but I hadn't.  For whatever reason he took one pro bono case and discovered police had lied and falsified evidence. It's was new experience for him to have a client he knew was innocent. "You don't understand... I'm a lawyer... I don't care. It's not my job!"  It's not his job to care.  "But they fucked this kid. He was miles away. I have witnesses!! I'm gonna fuck those cops!"  

Mob lawyers are lawyers. Corporate lawyers are lawyers. Most lawyers, like most journalists, aren't crusaders. Arguments that they should be are like arguments for star teachers. 

A biglaw partner, to me, about legal philosophy: “Lawyers don’t read that stuff Lawyers are tradespeople!” Katyal wanted it both ways, to be both a hired gun and an earnest liberal. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Hofmannsthal sent a copy of the chapter from Benjamin's Habilitation on melancholy, recently published in the Neue Deutsche Beiträge, to Panofsky, whose response was distinctly unenthusiastic.

Matthew Rampley The Remembrance of Things Past: On Aby M. Warburg and Walter Benjamin, Harrassowitz, 2000  p.11

In a letter dealing with Kracauer’s project, Panofsky described the project’s thesis aesthetically as dealing with the intrinsic conflict between cinematic structure and “story.” He wondered whether this “conflict”was not rather a property inherent in the photographic medium itself, because the photographer is free to determine the composition and the subject of his shots.  This, Panofsky said, had convinced him that photography was an art. In his response, Kracauer made it clear that he was dealing with the “documentary tendency” as against that of telling stories and, therefore, with the ways these tendencies were manifest in the film production. He insisted more pugnaciously on the antagonistic conflict rather than recognizing, with Panofsky, that the photographic medium, like the other arts, combined narrative and representation.

Siegfried Kracauer and Erwin Panofsky; Briefwechsel 1941–1966 ed. by Volker Breidecker.  reviewed by Rudolf Arnheim, Leonardo, Volume 31, Number 1, February 1998, pp. 74-75


2022: more on Panofsky and Benjamin.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

On December 2, 2020, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin tweeted that the Council of Ministers had notified the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) that it was being dissolved by decree.

“Whatever its intention, this measure risks further stigmatizing Muslims in France,” said Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Shutting down an organization that raises legitimate concerns about anti-Muslim prejudice is blaming the messenger rather than addressing existing discrimination.” 

On November 19, Darmanin announced on social media that he had notified CCIF of the government’s intention to shut it down, giving it eight days to challenge the action in an administrative court. In the days that followed, the organization responded to some allegations in the minister’s letter in writing and over social media channels and announced on November 30 that it had already dissolved itself voluntarily and pre-emptively at the end of October. The government said in the December 2 notification that it did not accept the organization’s claim that it has dissolved voluntarily. 

A representative of CCIF has confirmed to Human Rights Watch that it intends to challenge the decree in French courts. The organization, she confirmed, had ceased operations and was no longer able to take forward the more than 500 cases on which it had been working.
I've spent too much time recently reading Americans. 
Link via @humanprovince
Tagged Charlie Hebdo because there is no free speech in France, or anywhere in Europe.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

And again

Cocktails, wine, internet, Amazon deliveries. Rent paid. The life of Ms Riley POC. "Love Life
Tens of millions of people are struggling to meet basic needs, according to the most recent Census data released on December 2, yet core parts of the relief that policymakers provided this spring have already expired or are slated to expire by the end of the year.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Postwar Hollywood. 1949. A new kind of space. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The first in a long thread, with the rest copied below. 

Lots of left-wing people are rightfully suspicious of what seems to be yet another Obama guy who cashed out in the private sector and is now returning to government. And that he cashed out at Blackrock, one of the biggest single shareholders in big fossil fuel companies.

What I think is missing in this picture is just what a strange and new invention of capitalism a company like Blackrock is, particularly in how it represents a new relationship of shareholders to capital. 

A major idea in neoliberal thought is that corporations have no social responsibility but to maximize profits for their shareholders. It's often assumed by Marxists that shareholders are ruthless creatures interested in class domination. This misses a lot -- some new, some old. 

One old thing it misses is that capitalists do compete. Not always as much you'd think if you internalized the freshman econ fairy tale, but they do. Hence Henry Ford, who famously paid his employees well so they could afford to buy his products, and to dominate the labor market. 

A more recent thing it misses is that capitalists want to diversify their investments and also want to not have to think about them. They would rather be on their yacht. Enter Blackrock, Vanguard, the idea of index funds. 

An index fund is a fairly recent innovation of capitalism. The idea originated at the University of Chicago with a bunch of financial economists asking one of life's big questions: if I have a big fucking pile of money, what is the best way to invest it? 

To address this question, they made some weird assumptions, like that the market should be efficient so that arbitrage should not be possible. You might ask why one would assume that arbitrage is not possible, and then go looking for arbitrage opportunities. It's a good question. 

Anyway, they took their burning desire to know how to earn the best risk-adjusted returns on a big portfolio of money, and they took their efficient market assumption, and discovered something that kind of embarrassed them. 

What they discovered is that the best portfolio, basically, would be constructed by going to the stock market and saying "i'll take one of everything, please". 

By doing this, you would, by definition, get returns equal to the average returns of the market. This was really upsetting to a lot of people in finance, because it suggested that all of the work they did was pointless and could be replaced by a guy ordering one of everything. 

In fact there are reports (see the fantastic book by Mackenzie, An Engine, Not A Camera) of banking guys having posters on their doors saying that index funds were *worse* than socialism. 

Interestingly, it took a little while for them to catch on. The 1980s were characterized by the rise of activist investors like Carl Icahn, who would buy up big stakes in companies, and then convince them to run them differently so they could pay their shareholders more. 

Activist investment, of course, grew out of the notion that the only social responsibility of the company was to its shareholders. Therefore, please route all future pension payouts to my account. 

It took some time, but index funds eventually dominated. It wasn't just the theory that said they were good. (In fact, the theory wasn't *exactly* correct.) But over the last several decades, index funds have handily outperformed the active stockpickers who get paid lots of money 

(It's almost always enlightening to ask people who manage money why their clients don't just index.) 

Now, who runs the index funds? The biggest two are Blackrock and Vanguard. They're the biggest shareholders in *basically everything* now.

The next obvious question is what they do with their enormous power as shareholders. This has been a matter of debate, but generally the answer has been: not much.

Vanguard, iirc, takes the view that as its fiduciary duty to shareholders is to give them the market average, they should abstain from doing much activism. In other words, give them the market average, if Vanguard wasn't there.

Another question: is it actually possible to do this? Does the idea of "give my clients the market average, if my index fund wasn't there" even make logical sense when your index fund owns more of the stock than anyone else? 

Moreover, when you own massive stakes in *every* company, what *would* activist investment even look like? 

Obvious example, written about by Matt Levine.
If you're a Pfizer shareholder, what do you want Pfizer to charge for the coronavirus vaccine? 

Now if you're Carl Icahn in 1980, the answer is obvious: the amount that allows you to pay me the most. Therefore, route everyone's retirement savings to my account in the Cayman's (once they've raided it to pay for the vaccine).

The answer gets *weird*, though, when you see the world as Blackrock, which owns everything. Because your fund owns The Economy, the answer could be that every company is gonna bleed until everyone gets vaccinated, therefore Pfizer should go bankrupt providing vaccine for free 

Or maybe that's not! the point is the answer becomes murky, but that it's far from obviously "route everyone's future pensions to my account" 

Now, we've come a long way, but this is more or less why Blackrock would want someone like Brian Deese who had worked on economic and climate policy to go to work for them and make some decisions about sustainable investing. 

Blackrock, in constructing its indices, has a legal duty to its shareholders to own, e.g. Exxon-Mobil in proportion to their market cap. But they also have a duty to own, e.g., Aetna in proportion to *its* market cap. And if Exxon-Mobil gives people cancer, that's bad for Aetna. 

But in a broader sense, if the oceans boil because of Exxon-Mobil, well, that's bad for the whole portfolio. And bad for the shareholders, because some of them want to be on their yachts, and because some of them are just regular people with retirement accounts. 

The major development here is that through essentially capitalist machinations, Blackrock and other index funds find themselves seeing the world less like a company and seeing more like a government.

They’ve been somewhat slow to wake up to this power, but it’s been a quiet major development in the last few years that Blackrock CEO Larry Fink has started making more demands of portfolio companies. And some of them are kind of resentful. 

Interestingly, he’s nowhere near as rich as Jeff Bezos. But as the representative of an overwhelming amount of shareholder money, Larry Fink is, in some sense, every CEO’s boss. He can call them on the phone and make them do things. And probably get them fired.

This Larry Fink letter to shareholders is an interesting read. It’s almost completely divorced from any moral notions of justice and basically tells investors that if companies don’t clean up their act the party is definitely going to be over soon.  Larry Fink CEO Letter | BlackRock

Now, my opinion here is that government is completely out to lunch on doing anything about this. But as Blackrock sees like a state, and as it can force companies to do things, someone who sets sustainability standards at Blackrock is doing something similar to making new laws. 

In other words, it’s a fairly natural places for a climate-minded policy person to end up, that doesn’t — in my opinion — really have the same political conflicts of interest with Obama’s stated political goals as working for Uber — which I do see as unforgivable. 

To reiterate, the difference as I see it is Uber’s internet is in actively undermining labor law, whereas Blackrock’s is in the abstract idea of shareholder returns. Which is capitalist, sure, but that commitment hardly makes someone a standout in any presidential admin. 

In other words, there will be many nominees, and many will be more corrupt, and he just doesn’t seem all that worth the energy to me. And frankly, among the alternatives for where an Obama guy can go work during a GOP presidency, it’s probably less corrupt than Brookings or CAP. 

I haven’t gone into it, but there’s a *lot* of fascinating places you go when you start thinking about what index funds mean for capitalism and government. Matt Bruenig for example has used them to argue for sovereign wealth funds. 

But the basic nature of the questions that they lead you to ask as soon as you know about how effective they are and how much money is in them are basically 1. what the fuck are capitalists even *for*? 2. what does it mean that a guy who manages an index fund is every CEOs boss? 

I’ll end with some recommended reading:
1. An Engine, Not A Camera, by Don McKenzie
2. Matt Levine’s newsletter, all of it
3. Wall Street: How It Works And For Whom, by Doug Henwood
4. A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Burton Malkiel

Oh, and one last note: there were some accusations that Jill Stein was a phony in 2016 because they looked at her retirement portfolio and it had lots of oil companies. But they were all owned through index funds, like pretty much any well-to-do 70 year old’s portfolio.