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Liberal Thursday Meets Theory Tuesday

Jodi Dean generously reviewed What’s Liberal? two weeks ago, both at her own blog, I Cite (which is much more cleverly named than mine, I must admit) and via cross-posts at Long Sunday and The Valve.  It’s one of the more stringent reviews the book has gotten, and one of the very few theoretical discussions of the book to date.  But like the cliché says, on most points we’re simply speaking different languages.  And so I’ll have to say a few words about incommensurability.

In Dean’s terms, “liberalism” is a bad thing because (a) it is synonymous with reason and therefore (b) marks all kinds of insidious and pernicious exclusions—exclusions that are especially insidious and pernicious because liberalism is so blithe and arrogant in its ascription of reason to itself that it doesn’t even realize it’s excluding anyone—or at least anyone who counts.  In fact, at one point Dean even says that I replay precisely those aspects of the Enlightenment that I explicitly criticize in chapter six (e.g., on pages 221-24, for those of you with a copy of the book ready-to-hand):

It’s also hard to see what makes it reasonable other than the fact that it claims to be reasonable and sees everything else as unreasonable and immoral. In fact, Berube’s description of liberal rationality retains from the history of liberalism (I have Locke in mind) the dissociation of reason from the habits of mind of women, savages, and imbeciles. It’s as if this “reason" can only appear in the space it establishes through a set of attacks and exclusions. This is really no surprise (return to Foucault refrain, that’s why we call it power/knowledge).

You heard it there first: I retain from the history of liberalism—uncritically, mind you—the dissociation of reason from the habits of mind of women, savages, and imbeciles.

And I don’t want to sound too . . . ah, reasonable in replying to this review, because I don’t actually think that liberalism is synonymous with reason or that it necessarily excludes things like affect.  So I’ll just admit that I found Dean’s bolded refrain, “that’s why it’s called/ we call it/ they call it power/ knowledge,” which appears three times in the review, kinda annoying.  Not merely because it names the obvious thing of which people like me are supposedly ignorant, but also because its appearance in boldface and its repetition—Dean twice calls it a “refrain”—gives it the character of something like a cross between a chant and a taunt.  It is thus not only something obvious but something to be re-cited by the chorus, the chorus of people who know precisely what is wrong with these liberals who are ignorant both of Foucault and of their own enabling suppositions.  But you know what?  As I hope to demonstrate, I was pretty explicit about my enabling suppositions and the inevitability of incommensurability—which entails, among other things, the realization that liberals can’t always come to terms with people who disagree with them.  At least not terms that those people would agree with.

About those women and savages and imbeciles: I think Dean’s alignment of me with the most illiberal features of the Enlightenment tradition is unreasonable.  But that’s why we call this kind of thing an incommensurability.

Now for the more serious problem.  Jodi Dean’s review relies on one central misunderstanding; it is the fount from which all other misunderstandings flow, and it even sets the terms for how we are to understand “misunderstanding.” Additionally—because we’re dealing with an incommensurability between her understanding of liberalism and mine—this misunderstanding insists that it is not a misunderstanding at all, but, rather, an insight into liberalism’s constitutive misunderstanding of itself.  And it goes like this:

My basic claim: Berube demonstrates quite clearly what is liberal about liberal arts. But instead of recognizing liberal arts and liberalism as formations of power/knowledge (and hence as in combat with conservativism and leftism) he views liberal thinking as reason (and hence as a universal norm) and dismisses those who disagree with him politically (those on the extremes of left and right) as irrational. . . .

So, for Berube a particular kind of politics (liberal democracy) requires a particular way of thinking, a kind of deliberative thinking. Or, more flatly, liberal politics depends on liberal thinking, which is taught in liberal arts. Typically, liberals refer to liberal thinking as reason. So, liberal politics requires reason.

What can I say but no, I don’t and no, it doesn’t?  Because I simply don’t equate liberalism with reason, and I don’t claim that the former has the lock on the latter.  (Dean also claims that I engage in that foolish liberal game in which one “displace[s] one’s enabling suppositions onto another,” and here I’m simply reduced to the childish reply, “no I don’t, you do: your entire review is driven by your own enabling suppositions about what liberals believe.”) And I don’t construe everyone who disagrees with me as irrational, either.  Some people seem perfectly rational (according to the world as I construe it), and some people don’t, but both groups contain people who disagree with me on any number of things.  Dean’s claim that I equate liberalism with reason tout court is simply unsupported by What’s Liberal—which is why, when she points out that I sometimes disagree with people to my left, she excises the actual reasons I offer for those disagreements.  For example, she declines to discuss whether, in deciding to chair the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, Michael Parenti was in fact acting as “an apologist for fascism and ethnic cleansing.” But one would have thought—if one were, say, me—that the ordinary protocols of intellectual exchange on such matters require a substantive discussion of the reasons for one’s positions.  I certainly provided mine in What’s Liberal.  And those of you who are curious as to what I mean when I refer to the “Monty Python Left” might take a look at this post, in which I note the similarities between a certain scene in Life of Brian and Ward Churchill’s claim that he meant his “‘little Eichmanns’ characterization” to apply “only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as ‘technicians.’ Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by.” Not everyone to my left is a member of the Monty Python Left; in reality, very few are—namely, those hardy few who are willing to comb through Churchill’s self-justifications and explain to us whether the cheese-makers of the WTC deserved to die on 9/11, or whether Churchill was referring to WTC dairy producers in general.

As for the impasses between secular and religious forms of thought, or, in other words, the conflict between reason and faith: I don’t understand why Dean or any of her readers would think that I am unaware of this “exclusion,” since I discuss it repeatedly in the book and insist that it cannot be mediated by reason.

For the record, then: if you disagree with me, I will not construe you as crazy or defective.  If you argue from faith in one or another religious tradition, I will note that, and I will acknowledge that your premises are incommensurable with mine.  If you argue from different secular premises than mine, or if you argue from similar premises but to different ends, I will note that too.  I won’t always do it with patience, either!  Sometimes I will use mockery and satire and the good old reductio ad absurdum.  And I will even note that we may be unable to agree about how to characterize our disagreement.  But I will not be quite so crazy or defective as to claim that I have a monopoly on reason and its uses.

Finally, I don’t think you really need Lacan or Zizek or Foucault to get at these Hidden Truths about liberalism.  Actually, I thought my book was partly about the limitations of liberalism, and how (for example) the injunction to “challenge unreasoning prejudice of all kinds,” insofar as “it places additional moral burdens on certain kinds of conservatives whose opposition to homosexuality stems from deeply held religious belief,” can appear to those conservatives as “a form of prejudice in itself” (23).  I thought I said in so many words that “this conundrum, forged in the gap between procedural liberalism’s openness to debate and substantive liberalism’s opposition to racism, sexism, and homophobia, seems to me one of the most difficult moral and intellectual quandaries any liberal teacher has to face” (23-24).  And that’s why I argue that although we cannot resolve incommensurabilities, we should try to understand what is at stake in them: because, as I’ve said before on this blog,

one of the purposes of the liberal arts—golly, but I thought this argument was as clear as a mountain stream—is to teach people how to think about fundamental disagreements in human affairs, and how to conceptualize fundamental disagreements without coming to the conclusion that the people who disagree with you must be expelled or exterminated.

I honestly don’t see how any of this involves an evasion of power/knowledge.  But then, the charge is that I am blind to the workings of power/knowledge, so I would say this, wouldn’t I.


The rest of my disagreements with Dean’s review have to do with examples rather than principles.  One involves what I think is a little sleight of hand, in which Dean notes my political “paranoia”: 

A possible indication of the problem of displacing one’s enabling assumption onto another is the paranoia that results. Berube writes:

Liberals and progressives tend to be suspicious of people too far to their left, because those people, like the religious right, have a bad track record when it comes to devising policies for fostering pluralism and decentralizing decision-making authority in civil society (288).

It’s weird that progressives would be suspicious of, say, those who fought for the 8 hour working day, unemployment insurance, health insurance, regulatory oversight over the enviroment and workplaces.

As it happens, I’m not suspicious of any of those people, so there’s no weirdness there.  Rather, what’s weird that Dean would try to pass off the claim that I consider the US labor and environmental movements too far to my left.  For what were these movements if not progressive?  The people too far to my left, of course, are Leninists, Maoists and Stalinists, from Lenin, Mao and Stalin right through to their heirs and avatars in the present.  The people who fought for the eight hour working day, unemployment insurance, health insurance, regulatory oversight over the environment and workplaces are perfectly OK with me.  In fact, they’re my political forebears.  You’d have to be crazy to think otherwise.  (That’s a little liberal joke there.)

Another disagreement involves—oddly enough—something called power/knowledge.

This designation of extreme as illiberal appears in Berube’s odd criticism of Campus Watch. He says that he finds Campus Watch’s claim to respect freedom of speech disingenuous because it created a list of apologists for terrorism. Why is their claim disingenuous? It’s as if free speech were not risky or dangerous speech, speech that would incite and outrage—and incite an outraged response. But Berube advocates a liberalism premised on exclusions—so he can’t advocate a kind of speech that is outraged.

Ah, no.  I explained pretty carefully why I considered Campus Watch’s claim disingenuous, and Dean’s decision not to quote or acknowledge my explanation is what one might call an “exclusion.” So in the liberal spirit of inclusiveness, here it is:

when, in 2002, I learned that Campus Watch had created a list of Middle Eastern Studies scholars in order to (in their words) target professors who “actively dissociate themselves from the United States,” and that they had named twenty U.S. colleges that “fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance” by having Middle Eastern Studies programs that contain professors who are harshly critical of Israel, I wrote to them to protest what I called their Stasi-like tactics, as did over one hundred professors and graduate students across the country.  In response, Campus Watch created a webpage—since discredited and taken down—which they titled “Solidarity with Apologists” (the “apologists” in question being the Middle Eastern Studies scholars Campus Watch had now deemed to be “apologists for terrorism”), and they included my name on their short-lived blacklist.  At the same time, Campus Watch insisted that their organization “fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.” I found (and still find) this claim remarkably disingenuous.  It is as if Campus Watch were to say, we respect these scholars’ freedom of speech—we simply call them “apologists for suicide bombings and militant Islam” on our website.  We’re not to blame if people call for their firing, imprisonment, or death.

And that’s why it’s called power/knowledge: people who claim to respect freedom of speech in this way are not, in fact, respecting freedom of speech.  They are demonizing dissent from U.S. foreign policy, particularly U.S. foreign policy with regard to Israel, as apologism for suicide bombings and militant Islam.  I find Dean’s characterization of my criticism of Campus Watch as “odd” to be rather odd, and I am at a loss to explain why her understanding of power/knowledge fails her here.  For the people at Campus Watch was not just making any ordinary claim about their opponents: they were appealing to a real live disciplinary apparatus in order to rule their opponents out of court—at a time when Bush/Cheney had already begun to circumvent actual courts in their prosecution of “enemy combatants” in the “war on terror.”

Finally, there is Dean’s characterization of my “true core”:

I think that the true core of Berube’s view of liberal arts and liberal politics appears when he refers to the “true purpose of an elite education” (56). The training in reason he advocates is an elite training, a cultivation of habits of mind that steer clear of extremes, that in fact are only known in relation to these extremes. Does this mean that the masses, the non-elites, are a mass of extremes, of appetites and aversions easily thrown by the rhetorics of right and left, easily drawn to fascism or communism? And does it mean that the liberal elite are the proper steerers or governors of the mass, the ones capable of avoiding extremes, perhaps because of their love for critical reason? Or, are they just an elite trying for political control from a particular power base in the educational ideological state apparatus?

Return to refrain—and that’s why they call it power/knowledge.

This one involves a minor misunderstanding about who refers to the “true purpose of an elite education” and why: the phrase is Martin Kramer’s, not mine, as I’ll explain in a moment.  But as I point out in Kramer: Toward a Minor Misunderstanding, some minor misunderstandings are critically important, especially when they lead to a series of (mis)leading questions like those with which Dean closes her review.  So I showed up in the comments section to try to straighten out the textual record.  I pointed to the passage in What’s Liberal from which Dean draws the phrase “the true purpose of an elite education,” and noted that I was quoting this Martin Kramer essay:

The United States doesn’t need a lot of new grads to explain ‘why they hate us.’ What it needs are people who are so persuaded of its mission in the world that they are prepared to undergo some hardship and risk to advance it. I happen to think that calling that mission ‘empire’ just gets in the way. But whatever the mission is called, its bearers have to be persuaded that it is the worthiest of causes. That demands cultural self-esteem and self-mastery—the true purpose of an elite education. It doesn’t require a working knowledge of Arabic.

And here’s my reply in What’s Liberal:

Kramer is right, of course: if you’re interested in establishing American university graduates as proconsuls in Iraq or Syria, knowledge of Arabic is superfluous. Still, it is strange to hear right-wing partisans speak so glowingly of “cultural self-esteem” as the “true purpose of an elite education.” It seems like only yesterday that they were mocking African-American students and faculty for talking about bolstering the self-esteem of American minority groups. And it seems to me that they had it right the first time: the true purpose of an elite education is not the fostering of cultural self-esteem and the hardening of the conviction that one’s nation has a unique mission in the world. The true purpose of education is to try to foster in students a kind of critical cosmopolitanism, such that they learn, among other things, to question any notion that one’s nation or tribe is favored by God or destiny. Not every form of education seeks to realize this “true purpose,” I admit. Come to think of it, there is a word for educational institutions that foster students’ cultural self-esteem and sense of self-mastery, and that graduate a cohort of people who are so persuaded of their mission in the world that they are prepared to undergo some hardship and risk to advance it. We call them “madrassas.”

Dean replied here, I replied to her reply here, and she replied here.  Other commenters, acknowledging the (minor) local point at issue to varying degrees, nonetheless complain that I failed to engage the central argument of Jodi Dean’s review.  They were right: I didn’t have the time or the energy to do that two weeks ago.  So I’ve given it a shot today.  Not that it’ll settle the dispute between liberalism and its discontents, but it might clarify what’s in dispute and what’s at stake.  Because the fact that I see Dean’s premise as a basic misunderstanding of my premise suggests to me that we’re not really going to come to agreement by explaining our premises further.

By contrast, Ophelia Benson (to whom I have not been able to reply, for the same time-and-energy reasons) seems to me to have put her finger on one of liberalism’s most vulnerable pressure points, and to have called out one of my book’s “lurking unacknowledged tensions” in terms that go directly to the question of how to think about incommensurability.  First, Benson quotes a passage in which I try to disentangle the project of universal human rights from any theory of universal reason:

I don’t think I’m asking for all that much in the way of intellectual conformity, consensus, or (gasp) tyranny. The version of universalism I’m proposing does suggest that it might be good and useful to say, “No matter how or what you think, you fellow human, you are entitled to food and shelter and health care and education and political representation.” You can be a Christian Scientist, a secular-humanist professor, or an avant-garde poet/sculptor/dancer, and we can let all those language games flourish. But underlying that commitment to parlogy and dissensus, let’s imagine provisional agreement about human entitlements. (260)

Benson replies:

Yes, let’s, but there’s a problem there, an unacknowledged tension. It’s helpful of Michael to have placed the Christian Scientist so close to health care in that passage, because that’s the tension. We can say “No matter what you think, you are entitled to health care,” because that doesn’t amount to forcing health care on the reluctant Christian Scientist. But what about the Christian Scientist’s minor daughter? That’s where the tension bites. We can tell the Christian Scientist “you are entitled to health care” without being coercive, but we can’t tell the Christian Scientist “your daughter is entitled to health care” without being at least potentially coercive. The Christian Scientist, if she is a dedicated Christian Scientist, won’t want her daughter to get health care as commonly understood—she will in fact want precisely to deny her daughter the entitlement to health care that we have in mind when we talk about entitlements to health care. And that’s a problem. That’s the problem.

Because of course it applies to a lot of cases. Not just the Christian Scientist who doesn’t want her daughter to be entitled to health care, but also the parents who don’t want their daughters to be entitled to education, the parents who don’t want their daughters to be entitled to freedom, the parents who don’t want their daughters to have the right of refusal in marriage, and so on. It also applies to men who don’t want their wives to have various entitlements; it applies to men who don’t want their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers to have any entitlements. It applies to people who have power over intimates and dependents, because such people generally do have both de facto and de jure power to deny entitlements to said intimates and dependents, a power which it can be anything from difficult to impossible to interfere with, especially without coercion—without what the people in question would indeed see as tyranny. That’s the problem. That’s the problem and it means that saying “No matter what you think, you are entitled to [various things]” won’t untie this knot between universalism and difference.

What can I say but unfortunately, I agree with this characterization of disagreement? Well, I can admit that when I juxtaposed the Christian Scientist with the entitlement to health care, I did it deliberately.  But, as Benson says, that’s a problem.  That’s the problem.  And the complaint that my book doesn’t address it adequately seems to be perfectly (cough) reasonable, especially when, as Benson notes, the proposition of universal human rights and entitlements bumps up against dependency and surrogacy—as it always will, as long as the human species includes children and people with disabilities.  This is especially vexing for someone like me who predicates universal human rights on the recognition of dependency and surrogacy, and it marks (yet again, with emphasis) one of the limits of liberal thought.

Posted by on 11/21 at 12:00 PM
  1. I think that this identifies one of the difficulties I have the kind of theory discourse that Jodi Dean engages in; it seems to turn people into very poor readers.  I have no idea how someone could read your book and conclude that it depends on a claim that liberal reason is a universal norm.  And I see the same thing happen whenever I read the same source text that a Theory devotee has written about; they always seem to be reading something other than the actual text.  As a result, of course, they never get anywhere.  Holbo’s been writing the same thing about liberalism’s self-knowledge of this over and over, on his blog and at the Valve, since day 1—drawing on sources from the last couple of centuries, of course—and still, most of the people who object have never been able to read what he writes well enough to even disagree with what’s he saying.

    There’s an element of one-way incommensurability about this that *could* be confused with a claim towards universal reason, or that all opponents are irrational, true.  If you understand someone who is arguing with you, but they never bother to understand you, then it might well appear to them that you are dismissing them as irrational or childish.  But that’s the well-known liberal final gesture of “outside the conversation”—you don’t have to spend your whole life patiently re-explaining yourself to someone who shows no interest in getting it.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  02:09 PM
  2. Your article reminds me of Wynton Marsalis characterization of John Coltrane and his music as “earnest.” Your endeavor to avoid things spinning out into a Chaucerian quitting game or Lacanian purloining of the argument comes after I watched the Phoenix Suns beat Golden State in a small-ball freeforall last night:exciting but lacking.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  02:28 PM
  3. In my analogy, Michael would of course be Don Nelson.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  02:41 PM
  4. I think I get it: Reasonable men can disagree.
    Women, savages, and imbeciles not so much.

    I’ll take it on faith that you agree, I kindof read it in a hurry - but even if you don’t, no biggie; Right? <*wink* *wink*>

    (I mean after all we’re both free, male and over 21 - and probably landowners to boot.)

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  02:46 PM
  5. Rich, I’d actually like to avoid yet another Valve - Long Sunday cage match in comments, especially since both John and Jodi were kind enough to debate the dang book.  But I think what’s going on, in some branches of theory, is a kind of free association with the term “liberal.” The result is a kind of strawfigure of liberalism in which the “liberal” manages to combine the demeanor of a Mark Shields or a Joe Biden (famous invertebrates both) with a complete ignorance of the fact that anyone might think differently from liberals.  Hence you get what appears to me to be a complete non sequitur in which liberals are accused of disagreeing with people and thereby contravening liberalism itself, because—as we all know—liberalism claims to be tolerant of everything.  And the great thing about this strawfigure is that it’s equally adaptable by left and right.  (The right’s version is “X claims to be liberal, but she’s not very liberal when she disagrees with conservatives!")

    Ah, but to make this last point is to adopt the dread left-right equivalent thesis, and I didn’t even deal with Dean’s complaint that I position myself in the “center.” For some reason, that too is a suspect enterprise, despite the obvious fact that if I were the measure of the center of US politics, President Feingold’s universal health plan and family-leave policies would have been signed into law back in ‘02.  So I’m not really seeing what’s wrong with progressives claiming to inhabit the center, since moving the center to the left seems to me to be one of those things a good Gramscian should do.

    And Jim, what are these “golden” “suns” of which you speak?

    Posted by Michael  on  11/21  at  02:46 PM
  6. Michael,

    “Golden” “Suns,” indeed. I think in deference to Speaker Pelosi, you could take a crash course in West Coast culture. There is another ocean out here. There is also a puckless sport that emerged out of Canada from a child’s game called Duck on a Rock.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  03:03 PM
  7. Your do mean “fount,” don’t you?

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  03:21 PM
  8. I think the entire debate might benefit from a little more pragmatism.  I’m thinking in particular of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dictum that “abstract principles do not decide concrete cases.”

    Michael, I think, nails it when he notes that “the ordinary protocols of intellectual exchange on such matters require a substantive discussion of the reasons for one’s positions.” Well, yeah.  Moreover, one’s positions are seldom illuminated by the invocation of abstract entities like “power/knowledge.” The questions are specific to the case before us and need to be discussed at that level.

    So, we celebrate the triumphs of the Progressive movement, listed here as “8 hour working day, unemployment insurance, health insurance, regulatory oversight over the environment and workplaces.” Yay for all those things.  Yet the same Progressive principles that championed those triumphs also brought us involuntary sterilization and the American eugenics movement. 

    Holmes wrote in BUCK V. BELL, the 1927 case that held involuntary sterilization as constitutional, that the same principles that justified compulsory vaccination justified involuntary sterilization.  We celebrate the former but not the latter and the way we need to distinguish them is not to run to a n abstract theory of liberalism but to investigate the reason-giving for each in order to disentangle the one from the other.

    More talk about cases, less about theory, that is what I learnt from pragmatism.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  03:50 PM
  9. Oh, and my guess for the “font from which all other misunderstandings flow” is either Garamond or Arial.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  03:52 PM
  10. I have to admit I’ve only read the graphic novel version of What’s Liberal.  I have a long list of books.  That said,

    Isn’t Michael enough of a Rortyian that for him, to claim that various nonliberal positions are incommensurable with liberalism is, in fact, to claim that they are irrational?  Doesn’t Rorty argue that reason/truth/etc are terms of praise on which a consensus can be reached by solidarity, rather than objective universals?  And even if Michael applies Rorty’s epistemology only to ethics and politics, not to science, don’t liberalism and its opponents fall into the former category?

    Denying that connection seems to me to be the wrong way to tackle Jodi’s review.  My problem with it is that her own apparent agreement with the incommensurability thesis prevents her from drawing any conclusions from her argument other than that liberalism is a power/knowledge formation.  As Michael and others have said, well duh.

    More tangentially,

    The people too far to my left, of course, are Leninists...

    Leninists of various strands certainly have been involved in fights for things like “the 8 hour working day, unemployment insurance, health insurance, regulatory oversight over the enviroment and workplaces.” The Communist Party was central to the labor movement in the thirties, before its Stalinist idiocies plus McCarthyism managed to destroy it, and it was built largely by veterans of the IWW and the Socialist Party, who were central to the labor movement in earlier decades.  And that was the era when the labor movement made most of its progress in the U.S., whichever way you think the causality flows.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  04:06 PM
  11. Also, shouldn’t this post have taken place on a Wednesday?  What averaging procedure is being used so that the meeting of Tuesday and Thursday takes place on… Tuesday?

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  04:09 PM
  12. I’m not sure if this is a different problem from the one Ophelia Benson (rightly in my opinion) raises, or a different version of the same problem, but: some of the people who fought for

    “the 8 hour working day, unemployment insurance, health insurance, regulatory oversight over the environment and workplaces”

    were Leninists and Stalinists, and some of them became Maoists later on when that choice was added to the menu. So at some point we need to deal with the question of motives (are you fighting for the eight-hour day because you believe it will make workers’ lives better, or because it will give them more leisure in which to study Marxism-Leninism, or because the struggle will temper them for the revolutionary battles to come, or...?)--which is also, I think, what Benson’s question reaches: if our motive in asserting a right to health care is to reduce the sum of human suffering, then what’s our duty when challenged by that practicing Christian Scientist mom, and does the answer to this question cast doubt on our underlying motive?

    (Captcha: Miles46, which I believe is when he was on the Savoy sessions with Bird)

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  04:09 PM
  13. ...liberalism claims to be tolerant of everything. - Micheal

    Yeah, that drives me nuts. Disagreement is not equivalent to intolerance. Tolerance is actively not showing up to someone’s house to break their knee-caps, or advocating that someone else should. I think the difficulty comes in when people assume that a disagreement in tantamount to violence or oppression, or to advocating it. It seems like slippery territory to me.

    WAAGNFN Event: As per Oaktown Girl’s request.

    I took a shot at Astaroth - Dark Prince of the Liberal Arts. There’s some disagreement as to Astaroth’s gender, so I went for the anatomically genderless barbie doll approach. Enjoy, and be kind - I’m learning to draw here.

    Full image - HERE

    astarothsmallerjf2.th.jpg border=0

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  11/21  at  04:30 PM
  14. Well, today’s news seems to indicate that the incommensurability of common held ideas and social values (such as the 9th Amendment) is endemic to much of the landscape of the US.  I cite two different stories with similar thematic counterpoints--
    First it is the 2nd Amendment versus the 9th Amendment:
    Town founded by Quakers issues call to arms. Idaho burg
    requires gun ownership to guard against refugee flood. 

    The second one is a bit dicier, but full of good carnivorous meaty wingnuttery in all its bloody gore:
    Hippies still trying to ruin the country!  America won’t win another war until the 1960s flower children are pushing up petunias.  Radicalized, the flower children morphed into lefty loonies who now masquerade as social progressives. No matter what they rename themselves, however, their agenda hasn’t changed.

    I would rather that be “pushing up” daisy’s, only in the sense of that wonderful 60’s anti-war poster semioticity.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  05:29 PM
  15. Posted by  on  11/21  at  05:39 PM
  16. Isn’t Michael enough of a Rortyian that for him, to claim that various nonliberal positions are incommensurable with liberalism is, in fact, to claim that they are irrational?

    Only the book will tell.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  06:05 PM
  17. Oh, and just for the record.

    Dear Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists:

    Love that eight-hour day!  I’m fond of the “weekend,” too.  But I didn’t care much for the purges and the gulag and the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.  You can keep those.

    This blog is, however, fond of a good show trial now and then.


    Posted by Progressive Left  on  11/21  at  06:15 PM
  18. Gosh, MB, I thought I was raising a serious question about people with multiple motives, good results coming from questionable intentions etc. Do I really have to disavow purges and gulags in order to raise the issue of how we should think about the fact that (for example) the Scottsboro Nine probably would have been executed if the International Labor Defense, a Communist-run organization, hadn’t furnished them with lawyers? I KNOW the CP’s motives with regard to racial injustice were murky. That’s my whole point, and I think it deserves better than a gibe.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  06:25 PM
  19. It’s a fair question, rootlesscosmo, and I’m sorry I’m not in the mood for a genealogy of leftist motives right now.  I wrote a passage that pretty clearly referred to the creation of totalitarian states in the name of Marx and Lenin, and Jodi Dean decided to construe it as a passage expressing my “paranoia” about the people who gave us the eight-hour day.  Pointing out that the CPUSA was sometimes on the side of the angels, for all kinds of good and bad motives (start with Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual and follow it with Bill Maxwell’s New Negro, Old Left as a tonic), doesn’t really address that problem.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/21  at  06:48 PM
  20. Um, err, just how many comments have been lost? And is the loss permanent? (Well probably not, there is a Way-Back machine scanning the tubernets for everything. But consulting it is a pain.) ‘Cause I’m wondering if the early history of the WAAGNFNP isn’t already gone gone gone into the ether, ‘cause most of that history is in the comments.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/21  at  06:53 PM
  21. Haven’t read Maxwell--I’ll add it to the list--but Cruse, while eloquent, isn’t exactly the Final Word; I’d balance him (for a start) with Mark Naison’s Harlem Communists in the Depression. I agree, parsing M-L motives doesn’t address the problem of Dean’s misunderstanding of your passage; it does complicate the neat division of totalitarian sheep from New Deal goats (or do I mean...? nah) that you seem to be relying on in rejecting Dean’s criticism.

    Posted by  on  11/21  at  07:10 PM
  22. First a warning and a disclaimer. Beware, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve read neither Michael’s book nor Jodi Dean’s review, though I’ve read about both and have some familiarity with this here blog and with Long Sunday, not to mention The Valve.

    Thing is, I don’t know what this REASON is. Some 30 years ago I turned my back on what was to become Theory to study the (nascent) cognitive sciences. The decision was as much one of personal taste as of intellectual conviction. I just liked the “mechanistic” style of cognitive science.

    Well, the cognitive sciences have devoted an enormous amount of attention to investigating the processes of human reasoning. And it’s not at all clear to me that they’ve come upon any such thing as REASON. What they have discovered is heaps and piles and congeries of more or less domain specific recipes for reasoning. And there is some contention over whether or not there are general principles of reasoning. To the extent that there are—and I believe there may be—it’s not at all clear that that amounts to REASON. That’s just not a very useful analytic or descriptive category. It’s got its informal uses, but that’s pretty much it. (For the closest I’ve come to REASON, see this article about Natural Intelligence and this one about cognitive evolution and abstraction.) Cutting the mind into, uh, reason and emotion, action and feeling, just doesn’t seem all that, well, reasonable these days.

    Insofaras I can discern Berube’s view from his remarks here, I don’t see that he needs some monolithic REASON. I’m not sure about Dean. While she does seem to be against it, the tricky part is her construal of Berube as being for it. Does she need REASON as a strawman, I mean, really need it? Does she need it as something to oppose, as something against which to (attempt to) define positive doctines about mental activities? I don’t know. But I’m rather inclined to think that too much of the current Continental legacy is counter-punching, launching itself in opposition to something else. Without that something else, there’d be nothing.

    NOTE: The TARGET parameter is still busted. The engine just includes the parameter as part of the hred’d URL, giving you a busted URL in the link.

    captcha: “various66”—one more six and we have apocalypse

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/21  at  09:11 PM
  23. it does complicate the neat division of totalitarian sheep from New Deal goats (or do I mean...? nah) that you seem to be relying on in rejecting Dean’s criticism.

    Yeah, I’ll embrace that complication, and I’ll add that up through the 1930s, it did indeed look—to many reasonable (cough) people—as if capitalism was just about done and the worker’s paradise needed only a few more worker’s collectives and councils in order to be born.  And then, of course, we should not overlook the overlap (and rivalry) between Communists and anarchists, some of whom were hard at work bringing about that eight-hour day, and the social insurance program that was eventually watered down into Social Security.  And, last but not least, none of the CPUSA party members or fellow travelers in the early 1930s is responsible for the gulags and the purges anyway.  Most of the savvy ones, as Kalkin’s comment 10 suggests, knew what they were dealing with once the hardcore Stalinists set about defending the nonaggression pact with Hitler.

    OK, now I’m more in the mood for a genealogy of left motives.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/21  at  09:24 PM
  24. Why is this thread reminding me of John Ralston Saul?

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  11/21  at  09:32 PM
  25. I can’t help but wonder, when reading criticisms of the Enlightenment as somehow anti-woman, if there was some greater value to life in medieval patriarchies.  Reason is a messy process, but it certainly made the space for people to step forward and say, “Your claims of female inferiority are based on making shit up.” Which strikes me as a generally positive thing for feminism.

    Posted by Amanda Marcotte  on  11/22  at  12:26 AM
  26. I’m unsure what the alternatives to procedural liberalism are. Are alternatives put forth? A procedural Marxism or a procedural Conservatism?

    Is it the “liberalism” name that gets in the way or is it the procedural thing?

    Sometimes I get the impression that folks were not paying attention during the 20th century.

    Posted by  on  11/22  at  04:04 AM
  27. CCP said-
    Disagreement is not equivalent to intolerance.

    Right on!

    WAAGNFNP business:

    CCP – thank you so very much for stepping up to the plate with some original Astaroth art for the CCST.  It’s a beautiful picture. You are a true WAAGNFNP Patriot, and if The Purge comes before the GNF, the Ministry of Justice will see to it that your death is quick and painless.

    Astaroth is either male or female, depending on the task at hand. For the CCST, he’ll be male, manifesting in his role as the Prince of Accusers and Inquisitors.  If you are able to make this figure more male, and replace the whip with a gavel, guillotine, or scythe, it will be perfect for the CCST**. Please let me know if you are able to make these modifications. I hope it’s not too onerous a request. 

    Thanks again, CCP. As the kids would say, You Rock!

    **Not just because it will look more judicial and menacing, but because if the whip stays, we’ll have almost very man (and maybe a few women) in the WAAGNFNP committing crimes against the Party in attempt to be placed on trial so that they can receive “justice”.  I would never be so crass as to name names, such as, an Karl and Bill and Peter and JP and TC and Rich and Christian h, and Protevi, and Scott and Ed, and Michael.  But I could if I wanted to. Just sayin’.

    Posted by Oaktown Girl  on  11/22  at  05:51 AM
  28. . . .  we’ll have almost very man (and maybe a few women) in the WAAGNFNP committing crimes against the Party in attempt to be placed on trial so that they can receive “justice”.

    But before “justice” is dispensed the penitent must pass through the Breath of Gojira. That is not something one would do merely in order to get some kicks on route 666.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/22  at  07:20 AM
  29. Oh, man. I have an overdue book report.

    Posted by Karnack  on  11/22  at  10:32 AM
  30. I’m with Dale at #26.  I think Ms. Dean has confused an American-oriented, modern political definition of “liberal” and what is still often called “procedural liberalism.” For I’m not sure there’s much difference in what she says she wanted you to say and what you actually said in your book, when one tries to get...pardon the expression, practical.

    My sense is that the demonization of the word “liberal” in our corporate-owned media over the last several decades is likely animating this continuing critique of your book from the left as well as right sides of the political ledger.

    Posted by mitchell freedman  on  11/22  at  11:00 AM
  31. The greatest harm done by the modern conservative movement has not only been how it has perverted the meanings of “liberal” and “liberalism,” but also by how conservatism has perverted these meanings as to how they apply to the idealized self.

    What is a “liberal” at his or her intellectual core? We hark back to Eugene V. Debs, who boldly stated to a judge:

    “...years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

    Is this rational disinterest that Debs is defining? Noblesse oblige? The idea that, regardless of your current social standing, you remain kindred with the lower classes merely because they exist? That’s liberalism. Debs nailed it perfectly.

    Nowadays working class and middle class “conservatives” hate the poor, hate immigrants, hate criminals, hate public education, hate government, and so forth. There’s no kinship in the lower classes within the class struggle that still exists. Any time some conservative windbag denies there’s a class struggle, ask him or her about the generous tax cuts for the wealthy under Reagan and Bush II. No class struggle my ass.

    Conservative mouthpieces and conservative media have convinced millions of working class and middle class people they don’t belong with the poor, with the immigrants, with the criminals, with the atheists, etc. Therefore, their idealized self no longer finds kinship within their class or peer group; they have become the petty petty elite and they hate their own kind more than the elite and wealthy. After they’ve lost that sense of kinship with the unwashed masses, these converted people don’t need much of a leap to get them to believe any false meaning of liberalism. Start believing the biggest lie and the little ones are not much of a struggle to accept.

    So what we now have are people from the traditional lower classes not only aligning themselves with the wealthy and elite idealistically, they have also become their mouthpieces and foot soldiers. What makes them so sad is their failure to idealize themselves correctly and their complete intellectual myopia. Someone in a comment above made reference to their poor reading comprehension, but to me it’s more a function of their own self-imposed selective perception that cripples their thinking. Like religious converts, they merely ignore anything anithetical to their irrational beliefs.

    It’s a mad, mad world these days.

    Posted by mat  on  11/22  at  12:54 PM
  32. Here’s an uglier judge image that may be useful.  It’s copyrighted, presumably—it’s a detail from a picture of a mural by Mike Alewitz on an L.A. Communication Workers of America building—but maybe this would fall under fair use.  (I’m not a lawyer.) The picture itself was taken by me, so that’s OK.

    The judge (note the keyboard in the background; he’s also licking the blood off a police baton):

    <a img="http://rpuchalsky.home.att.net/judge.jpg">

    Posted by  on  11/22  at  12:56 PM
  33. Oops, wrong HTML:


    Posted by  on  11/22  at  12:58 PM
  34. As for the incommensurability (why can’t we all just get along?) of certain grumpy academics towards their peers:
    This month’s issue (Dec 2006) of Harper’s brings to light Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s (Regis Professor of Modern History) evaluation of one candidate (in a private letter to Wallace Notestein: Sterling Professor of English History at Yale) for the upcoming vote (1951) on the Oxford Chair of Poetry; a position he describes as “a distinguished and comfortable chair founded in the first instance to accomodate the fastiduous bottom of Matthew Arnold

    Do you know C.S. Lewis? In case you don’t, let me offer a brief character-sketch. Envisage (if you can) a man who combines the face and figure of a hog-reeve or earth-stopper with the mind and thought of a Desert Father of the fifth century, preoccupied with meditations of inelegant theological obscenity; a powerful mind warped by erudite philistinism, blackened by systematic bigotry, and directed by a positive detestation of such profane frivolities as art, literature, and (of course) poetry; a purple-faced bachelor and misogynist, living alone in rooms of inconceivable hideousness, secretly consuming vast quantities of his favorite dish—beefsteak-and-kidney pudding; periodically trembling at the mere apprehension of a feminine footfall; and all the while distilling his morbid and illiberal thoughts into volumes of best-selling prurient religiosity and such reactionary nihilism as is indicated by the gleeful title, The Abolition of Man. Such is C.S. Lewis, whom Magdalen College have now put up to recapture their lost monopoly of the Chair of Poetry.

    Posted by  on  11/22  at  02:17 PM
  35. Dean coems across as a far-left version of Mickey Kaus; the contrarian who’s really very dogmatic and wastes time & energy searching for some strawman version of liberal orthordoxy. You can’t win a rhetorical contest with this kind of “reasoning” (pun semi-intended) because that would threaten the uniqueness of the contrarian’s “point of view”. Consider it defensiveness that she needs to review you all over the place.

    Posted by  on  11/22  at  03:38 PM
  36. Rich, it’s not defensiveness on Jodi’s part.  Quite the contrary:  it’s generosity, even if the review itself is not exactly generous.  Jodi Dean was asked by John Holbo to participate in the month-long group review of What’s Liberal that’s being hosted by The Valve, and even though she and Holbo are not the best of friends (and even though she has many better things to do with her time), she agreed to take part.  For that—for her willingness to read the book and engage with critics and interlocutors in what is, for her, the mostly hostile territory of The Valve—I owe (and offer) Jodi Dean my thanks.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/22  at  05:27 PM
  37. Michael, I’ve working on a paper and just noticed your post. And, then, the last comment I read is your very kind and generous one, which I appreciate it. Your response is interesting (and nice to do in part because it generates hits for I Cite!) I agree that we won’t go very in getting all involved in premises and the what not, so I’m fine with living the incommensurable life. I’m glad you linked to all the comments on the ‘elite education’ thing because I that gets my response in there.

    On the campus watch front: as I see it, it’s the state and public institutions that are entities that can violate the right to free speech; as you know, there is no right to free speech on private property, say (and there is increasingly interesting case law on the problem of malls and the overall decline of public space). So, private groups like Campus Watch can’t violate anyone’s free speech. They combat it with their own tactics. My right to free speech is not threatened when they criticize me or put my name on lists or whatever; they are just exercising their rights. If laws are passed that censor what academics (for example) can say, then that’s something different. But, Campus Watch can spew as much nasty venom as it wants without that violating anyone else’s right to free speech.

    Posted by Jodi  on  11/22  at  07:21 PM
  38. ick--please overlook the fact that my comment is teaming with typos. I hope the point comes across.

    Posted by Jodi  on  11/22  at  07:22 PM
  39. Will you two get a room already. We’ve got to get down to planning…

    the end of the world.
    [narration by Orson Wells]

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  11/22  at  08:21 PM
  40. My sense is that the demonization of the word “liberal” in our corporate-owned media over the last several decades is likely animating this continuing critique of your book from the left as well as right sides of the political ledger.

    Actually, the left(s) have been criticizing liberalism for quite some time, long before the recent media demonization of the word “liberal,” which for most of the 20th century, until the 1970s or arguably even the 1980s, was a very positive term in mainstream U.S. political discourse.

    Obviously the New Left of the 1960s criticized liberalism. But so did the Old Left of the ‘30s.  See, for example, Joseph Freeman’s Introduction to Proletarian Literature in the United States (1935), which is largely a polemic against “liberal” critics, e.g.:

    The liberal’s quarrel with the Marxists does not spring from the desire to defend a new and original theory. After the ideas are sifted from the abuse, the theories from the polemics, we find nothing more than a series of commonplaces, unhappily wedded to a series of negations. The basic commonplace is that art is something different from action and something different from science. It is hard to understand why anyone should pour out bottles of ink to labor so obvious and elementary a point. No one has ever denied it, least of all the Marxists. We have always recognized that there is a difference between poetry and science, between poetry and action; that life extends beyond statistics, indices, resolutions. To labor that idea with showers of abuse on the heads of the “Marxists-Leninists” is not dispassionate science but polemics, and very dishonest polemics at that.

    Or, going back even further, there’s the closing line of Randolph Bourne’s “War and the Intellectuals” (1917):

    If the American intellectual class rivets itself to a “liberal” philosophy that perpetuates the old errors, there will then be need for “democrats” whose task will be to divide, confuse, disturb, keep the intellectual waters constantly in motion to prevent any such ice from ever forming.

    Posted by  on  11/22  at  08:48 PM
  41. Just as is done with “academic freedom,” the multiple conceptions of “liberal” are used to confuse much more than to illuminate.

    “Liberal” values, those imbued in our university structures, are not the same as the progressive political goals that people, especially on the right, like to conflate them with--no more than “academic freedom” is an aspect of freedom of expression.

    We don’t seem to be willing to accept that words and phrases can have multiple meanings.  At least, we are not willing to determine which one is being used before we jump to conclusions....

    Ah!  Jumping to conclusions!  Now I’ve visions of Tock, the watchdog in The Phantom Tollbooth.  And that makes me think I should go take a soak and read the WWII era Hopalong Cassidy novel I bought at a flea market today.

    Guess I just wasn’t cut out for these intellectual discussions!

    Captcha: “Programs67” Is that some futuristic movie from way back when where they eat something like soma and are all happy--or where the food turns out to have been their parents?  Or was it an Italian sex comedy?

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  11/22  at  09:19 PM
  42. As for the impasses between secular and religious forms of thought,
    or, in other words, the conflict between reason and faith:

    It was interesting to read this New York Times article on a recent conference in La Jolla entitled Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival (featuring Weisberg, Dawkins etc.) shortly after reading this post. The reason/faith “conflict”, of course, is appropriately front and center in that discussion.

    Exploring whether “the other side is unreasonable since they deny us the assumption of rationality” applies to one side or the other is at least more interesting than being lectured by the likes of late not-lamented Dr JA* on the right-wing blogosphere’s monopoly on reason, logic and the scientific method.

    *After mentioning the pompous one, I grew curious to see if he was still out and about. It appears that he has been silent since an off-topic November 10th appearance in the comments at the Front Page entitled Short Report on Blog Wars for DH and his Causes which consists of yet another recounting of his bloggy triumph here at Le Blogue** (yes the 22-year old gun moll and the VFW make their appearance.) But there do seem to be a few flourishes added from the previous version at ACTA. (Although I doubt we will get to read it here on the tubes, I’m thinking that in a few years the account will probably include him waking up in a bathtub of ice in a sleazy motel with a scar where a kidney was removed ...)
    Worth a read for some cheap, guilty pleasure, holiday cheer. My fav is where after referencing the “Duc de Rochefoucauld” in his post, he immediately follows with a comment titled Add: “La” in which he informs the enquiring Horowitzian minds that the full and correct reference is: “M. Le Duc Francois De La Rochefoucauld"--1613-80.

    **[technical note: Could only get 1st 100 comments of that thread to appear, even though it shows 190-something, tried a few other 100+ers and also only the first 100 came up - with no place to click for more - most likely some post-upgrade tweaking needed.]

    captcha: eight74 - whoever gets six66* wins something, by God.
    [ ... that was my “preview” captcha - the submit one is class66… it’s messing with me.]

    Posted by  on  11/23  at  01:55 AM
  43. That is not something one would do merely in order to get some kicks on route 666.

    Sadly, as of 2003, US Route 666 (Gallup, New Mexico to Monticello, Utah - appropriately close* to GNF country) was renumbered to 491.

    From the text of Joint New Mexico House & Senate Resolution requesting the change:

    WHEREAS, people living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and
    WHEREAS, the number “666” carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and
    WHEREAS, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States route 666; and
    WHEREAS, the economy in the area is greatly depressed when compared with many parts of the United States, and the infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road will only make development in the area more difficult.

    [emphasis added - an additional irony is that almost all of the route is through Indian Reservations.]

    *[you know the saying: close only counts in horseshoes and GNFs]

    Posted by  on  11/23  at  02:15 AM
  44. This is an outrage. Gojira is not happy. Once the CCST is concluded I propose that the WAAGNFNP undertake to have Route 666 restored to its proper name. We cannot countenance this erasure of our sacred objects. This should become another among the many irradiated planks in our Ceremonial Shad Plankatorium. Further, the restored Route 666 should be extended so that it meets one of various Bridges to Nowhere that exist here and there.

    captcha: “through99”—has anyone gotten a good one, like chanel5, cloud9, lot49, or number1?

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/23  at  06:43 AM
  45. Route 666 is now 491? WTF?

    Bill is right. This is an outrage! Not only is Gojira unhappy, 3Tops is ready to “roll some heads”, Toothy is ready to “eat our enemies”, and quite understandably, Astaroth feels the most injury as this indignity is a direct slap in the face of all righteous demons.

    The Ministry of Justice requests that the WAAGNFNP draft its own “WHEREAS...” resolution at once to combat these enemies of truth and goodness. Everybody can pitch in.

    Oaktown Girl
    Minister of Justice

    captcha: hotel51. If it were hotel666 I’d stay there. Hotel51 will never have my business!

    Posted by Oaktown Girl  on  11/23  at  10:06 AM
  46. Gojira spotted these dudes in the interwebs under Egypt. They’ve volunteered to join the enforcement division of the WAAGNFNP. They’re used to keeping things under wraps.

    Mummies on the Prowl

    Bill Benzon
    Minister of Visual Propaganda

    captcha: “the32” AKA the WAAGNFNP32
    captcha: “the32” AKA the WAAGNFNP32

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/23  at  11:04 AM
  47. Benjamin Quark Rollins has signed on with the WAAGNFNP Chief Scientist and Chef of the Future. He likes things done well, and thus well done.

    and another thing-6672

    Bill Benzon
    Minister of Visual Propaganda

    captcha: “full21”—that’s right, we want all the guns saluting Fearless Leader

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/23  at  11:12 AM
  48. As a service of the WAAGNFNP Command Intelligence Gathering, Ministry of Defense and Offense (CIGMODAO), we are providing the defense counsel of teh Clarke this exemplary model for the type of statement expected from showtrial defendents.  (from Ted Rall’s blog)

    The military tribunal lasted a week. At the end the 17 defendants were permitted to make a closing statement. Alexei Shestov, 41 years of age, stood up and admitted being a terrorist and traitor.

    “In that struggle,” he confessed, “I employed every loathsome, every filthy and every destructive method.” Coercive interrogation techniques--what effete and weak-stomached liberals would call torture--loosened the terrorist’s tongue. “For five weeks I denied everything,” he said, “for five weeks they kept confronting me with one fact after another, with the photographs of my dastardly work and when I looked back, I myself was appalled by what I had done.”

    Unlike his cowardly co-conspirators, Shestov proclaimed himself ready to face the ultimate sanction. “Now I have only one desire, to stand with calmness on the place of my execution and with my blood to wash away the stain of a traitor to my country.” He got his wish. The Military Collegium of the Supreme Court ordered him to be shot.

    The great Moscow “show trials” of 1937, officially bringing to justice the nefarious agents of the “Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre,” were the centerpiece of Stalin’s campaign to terrorize Soviet citizens from their previous state of basic subjugation to absolute submission. In truth, there was no such thing as the Anti-Soviet Trostskyite Centre.

    Posted by  on  11/23  at  02:56 PM
  49. Oh spyder -

    That is so delicious it simply must be fattening.

    Your spirit and dedication is the very quintessence of the Loyal Prosecution. I cannot wait to unleash you at the CCST.
    (If I sound aroused, it’s because I am - in a show trial kind of way, of course.)

    Study spyder’s example, people. Live it. Learn it. Love it.

    Yours in Service,

    Oaktown Girl
    Minister of Justice

    Posted by Oaktown Girl  on  11/23  at  04:16 PM
  50. It would be nice to have some inspiriring and insightful slogans we can use to perk up the propaganda, not to mention putting them on coloful banners for the parades surrounding the CCST. For that, of course, we need a Colorful Banner Committee (CBC).

    Come on Comrades, this is not a koffee klatch, it’s a World Shaking, Earth Quaking, Fissing and Fusing Political Partay!

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  11/23  at  05:41 PM
  51. Thanks for the reply, Michael. I figured you had juxtaposed the Christian Scientist with the entitlement to health care deliberately - also that you would have already thought of the link with dependency and disability. God knows it’s obvious! to paraphrase a melancholy Shelley Berman aside I loved when a mere child. I certainly don’t know of any way to deal with the problem that doesn’t involve coercion of someone - a fact which must have come to a lot more people’s attention with every new mandatory education law, to name just one. ‘No matter what you think, you fellow human, you are entitled to food and shelter and health care and education and political representation, and by the same token and for the same sorts of reasons you are not entitled to enslave anyone or sell anyone or keep your children out of school [homeschooling aside, sigh] or keep your disabled child in a back room or marry your nine-year-old daughter to a middle-aged stranger.’ A mixture of entitlement and coercion; of you get to have and you may not do. Hence libertarians sprout and blossom, hence Randians fall on each other’s necks, hence Norquistites equate taxation and tyranny. So it goes.

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  11/23  at  06:00 PM
  52. Isn’t the obvious answer to Ophelia Benson:
    that why we call it Democracy

    I mean this is the arc of Western political development from tribal despotism to liberal democracy.

    These moral questions can only be settled by democratic deliberation. True, we set up constitutions and bills of rights but these too are the product of deliberation and are subject to amendment.

    That’s why we call it a democracy.

    And I know all the counter argument and anger and most of all the impatience with my answer. We don’t have time for democratic change, people are suffering now, how can you be so blind, don’t you see that capitalism buys the process, etc… To which I say that all our attempts to get around the democratic method to correct our shortcomings have failed, and that it is only slow imperfect democracy that works in the end and that the answer to all the deficiencies has always been more democracy not less or rushed democracy. It is the best civilizational method we have ever developed and it would be nice to support it and apply it to more and more institutions and social structures. The biggest one being the corporation. But again, if you force it by the gun the change you want will never come.

    I don’t know. I’m not an academic and a lot of the theory debate is beyond me, but I got my Arts BA and I know how to reason and I had really hoped that in 2006 intellectually we would be beyond illiberalism as a solution to anything. It just seems so evident. Now look at that, I’m being impatient. These kinds of changes take 500+ years.

    Posted by  on  11/23  at  06:28 PM
  53. I’m not an academic either. But I don’t think Democracy is an answer; not a final or conclusive one. Sometimes it is, but not always - because sometimes a majority wants to oppress a minority, or even, in the case of women, a majority. I certainly don’t see myself as arguing for illiberalism; I’m just pointing out that it’s too easy to think that liberalism will solve all the problems and everyone will be happy. People who want to go on subordinating people they think should be subordinate to them are not necessarily going to be pleased to be prevented. In what way does Democracy solve that problem?

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  11/23  at  06:49 PM
  54. Stormcrow, thanks for the JA update.  I noticed that he translated his Gallicisms for the FrontPagers; I wonder if he doubts their erudition…

    P.S.  JA is so not the ToS.

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    Posted by Dave M  on  11/23  at  11:25 PM
  55. I was wondering if he really thinks “cui bono” means “what’s the point?”

    Posted by  on  11/24  at  12:03 AM
  56. People who want to go on subordinating people they think should be subordinate to them are not necessarily going to be pleased to be prevented. In what way does Democracy solve that problem?
    Posted by Ophelia Benson on 11/23 at 05:49 PM

    True enough. It just seems that everytime we go around democracy we just can’t make it to where we need to be. Everytime we take a shortcut or force the issue outside of a Democratic framework, we end up becoming something we didn’t expect or want. We pervert ourselves.

    I just can’t help but thinking of the difference between Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Nelson Mandela’s South Africa. I think all the success’ and limitations of a democratic approach versus for lack of a better word - revolutionary approach are all laid out before us in contrasting the two nations and the two results.

    Posted by  on  11/24  at  10:52 AM
  57. >the “Monty Python Left”

    oh, that is excellent.  EXCELLENT. 

    >Finally, I don’t think you really need Lacan or Zizek or Foucault to get at these Hidden Truths about liberalism.

    jeezus, i would hope not.  speaking of “elite;” there is also something to be said for writing, or at least -trying to-, in language that is, as you put it, “clear as a mountain stream;” it tends to mean more people will understand what the hell you are talking about, which is imo inherently more small-d democratic and hence more (as i have always understood it) small l-liberal.

    and thanks for the distinction between liberalism and reason.  i’ve been thinking about this for a while now; or rather about the Enlightenment roots of liberalism, and where reason fits and where it falls down.

    I need to check this out, clearly.

    Posted by belledame222  on  11/25  at  02:45 PM
  58. and per liberal, too, i always liked the connotation of “broad-minded; generous,” meself.

    Posted by belledame222  on  11/25  at  02:46 PM
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