Saturday, December 14, 2002


The Pilate problem

James Fitzjames Stephen was a Victorian bravo of the purest water. When Gertrude Himmelfarb gets all fluttery about Victorian masculinity, she is undoubtedly envisioning a man of Stephen's type. In his entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica, he is described as �massive, downright, indefatigable and sincere even to unnecessary frankness.� In other words, a sort of Mr. Rochester sprung from Jane Eyre�s tale.

Stephen was a member of the Apostles, the Cambridge group, in the 1840s � well before it became the conglomeration of aestheticism and the higher buggery under Keynes and Strachey � where he met Henry Maine, the legal historian; Stephen, having no taste for curateships, went into law himself; in his practical life, he eventually devoted himself to grafting principles of English common law into the workings of the British Raj in India.

The Mills, of course, father and son, were the redeeming intellectual ornaments of the East Indian Company, and Stephen must have been highly aware of them in his work. It is said � at least, in the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica it is said � that on the boat back from India, Stephen, reading John Stuart Mill�s On Liberty, devised his rebuttal, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

The book rather sank. Lately, however, it has become the subject of a little Tory cult.

Among the little band of Fitzjames Stephen's acolytes, none is fiercer than Roger Kimball of the New Criterion. Kimball, who has done his warrior bit in the Kulturkampf of the early nineties, rousting out tenured radicals and exposing them for the dubious souls that they are, has featured Stephen as a sort of Archangel Michael, putting the sword in the breast of that loathsome liberal toady of Satan, John Stuart Mill. Kimball�s loathing of Mill has breathed even in the pages of the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal, where all conservative hobby-horses eventually find a home. But there's a problem. Mill is widely revered in Libertarian circles. Kimball represents one crucial side of the untidy conservative front. He is plainly unhappy with his libertarian allies.

In an essay in November, 1998, that served as the centerpiece for a later, book-length attack on�liberalism,� Kimball poured out the vials of his wrath on Mill, � and as is the way of New Criterion loathings and the mood of the time, he attacks him as a sexual being as well as a thinker. Kimball, like Ken Starr, is a great one for keeping up with the bedroom habits of his enemies. In Mill�s case, the great sin was one of omission, rather than commission. Kimball writes, of Mill's relationship to his wife Harriet, �it is noteworthy that this "lofty minded" relationship was apparently never consummated.� There are, it appears, no sexual depravities to which the liberal mind won�t sink � including chastity.

In this essay, Kimball referred to Stephen�s book, Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. The book has already been rescued by Richard Posner, and has found its way into the reading list of the Federalist Society. Here�s Kimball�s assessment of it:

�By far the most concentrated and damaging single attack on Mill's liberalism is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, first published serially in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1872-1873, and then in book form in March 1873 in the last year of Mill's life. It was written by the lawyer, judge, and journalist Sir James Fitzjames Stephen (1829-1894): Leslie Stephen's older brother and hence--such is the irony of history--Virginia Woolf's uncle. Mill himself never responded to Stephen's book beyond observing, as Leslie Stephen reports in his excellent biography of his brother, that he thought the book "more likely to repel than attract." But several of Mill's disciples responded--the most famous of whom was the liberal politician and journalist John Morley (1838-1923). Stephen brought out a second edition of his book the following year, 1874, in which he reproduces and replies to many criticisms raised by Morley and others. Stephen described Liberty, Equality, Fraternity as "mainly controversial and negative." Pugnacious and devastating would be equally appropriate adjectives. As one commentator put it, Stephen made "mincemeat" of Mill.�

One notes that there is nothing worthy, sexually, of noting about Stephen. Thank God.

The Federalist Society of Wisconsin has, very kindly, made available half of Stephen�s famous polemic on-line.We�ve entertained ourselves, in these doggy days of flu and cloud, by reading the great man. It turns out that Kimball is right � at least, he is right to accord Stephen a great deal of recognition. The confused elements of American conservativism, circa 1998 � the longing for an established religion, the opposition to dissent, and the confused sense that the marketplace is no model for ideas � already form Stephen�s politics. In fact, this is no surprise � Mill might have been an eminent Victorian, but Victorian society, in its imperial flush, was much better represented by Stephen than by Mill. Stephen articulates a type that dominated the latter half of the nineteenth century in Britain. Shaw, in Heartbreak House (his best play � the only play of Shaw�s that LI re-reads, as we re-read Shakespeare�s plays), was talking of the Mill/Stephen split when he describes the difference between Heartbreak House and Horseback Hall. Heartbreak�s liberalism, of course, was falling down around Shaw�s ears as he wrote � World War I was an unmistakable counter-blast to the genteel Victorian and Edwardian virtues, and seemed, at the time, to put an end to the matter. Shaw�s description of Heartbreak culture in the preface seems, to LI�s mind, alarmingly like contemporary academia, with the substitution of other references for Wells, of course -- try Foucault, or whoever:

�With their heads as full of the Anticipations of Mr H. G.
Wells as the heads of our actual rulers were empty even of the
anticipations of Erasmus or Sir Thomas More, they refused the
drudgery of politics, and would have made a very poor job of it
if they had changed their minds. Not that they would have been
allowed to meddle anyhow, as only through the accident of being a
hereditary peer can anyone in these days of Votes for Everybody
get into parliament if handicapped by a serious modern cultural
equipment; but if they had, their habit of living in a vacuum
would have left them helpless end ineffective in public affairs.
Even in private life they were often helpless wasters of their
inheritance, like the people in Tchekov's Cherry Orchard. Even
those who lived within their incomes were really kept going by
their solicitors and agents, being unable to manage an estate or
run a business without continual prompting from those who have to
learn how to do such things or starve.�

Horseback Hall has, of course, few voices, because its texts are woven of such common-places of the governing classes as have, usually, no need for the exposure of literature, being content with the half-grunted affirmations of one's fellow club-men over a nice glass of port. However, Shaw creates a sort of ambassador from Horseback Hall in the play, Lady Utterword, whose husband, Hastings, has been a colonial governor over various tracts of the empire. At one point in the play, the house discovers a burglar, and there is a debate about sending for the police. If they do, of course, their names will be in the paper, which is the kind of publicity to which both Heartbreak House and Horseback Hall are constitutionally averse. Lady Utterword alludes briefly to her husband�s ways of dealing with crime:

�Think of what it is for us to be dragged through
the horrors of a criminal court, and have all our family affairs
in the papers! If you were a native, and Hastings could order you
a good beating and send you away, I shouldn't mind; but here in
England there is no real protection for any respectable person.�

Hastings Utterword, who never appears, in propria persona, on the stage, is embodied once and for all in that outburst. His type was invented by such as James Fitzjames Stephen.

Ah� we�ve reached the limit of the post-able, for one day. And we haven�t even gotten to Pilate! But never fear � tomorrow we will try to make a stab at Fitzjames Stephen�s Gedankenexperiment with the honorable Pontus Pilate, and connect it to the current baying for war against Iraq.

Friday, December 13, 2002


LI has been battling the flu this week. Hence, the noticeable lack of activity in this space. Some of you probably concluded it was the curse of Coleridge -- wrestling with that writer's anfractuosities has done in many a better man than LI. But no -- we were on top of the Coleridge problem until we felt that tickle in the throat, and that slight, heady rise in the body temperature, portents and symbols of the pathogen in the blood.
We're going to try to put up some feeble thing or other in this space today, however. Coleridge, who deserves all our health, will have to be swept into that veritable out-box of promises, all the projects LI has mentioned and failed to carry out.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Bush insatiable appetite for CEOs was apparently not sated by Paul O'Neill's unspotted record of ineptitude. There were times we rather liked O'Neill -- for instance, his idea that financial gamblers who invest in high risk emerging markets should (gasp!) take their risks. But on the whole, the man was as out of the loop as any Treasury secretary since the late Andrew Mellon. So now we have John Snow, chairman of CSX, whose arrival has been greeted by the cautious hossanahs of various Democrat honchos. This is, of course, a bad sign -- to be followed by the rote label, moderate Republican, and such business. Here is Forbes, trumpeting the integrity of the man:

"Snow has been serving as co-chairman of a Conference Board blue-ribbon commission on corporate governance. In its first report last September, the panel called for widespread reforms in the way executive compensation is determined.

In a news release accompanying the report's issuance, Snow deplored the series of corporate scandals involving companies like Enron that weighed on the U.S. stock market this year.

"These egregious failures evidence a clear breach of the basic contract that underlies corporate capitalism," Snow said in September."

There you go -- in the fashion of moderate Republicans everywhere, a scandal that stinks up the culture for almost a year finally gets struck down with the true, denunciatory thunder of a man whose own compensation package will guarantee him steaks and lobsters, with a diamond garnish, for the rest of his born days, if he so choses.

LI reviewed a book by William Leach years ago. The book rather convinced us that the new world ushered in by the de-regulation of the railroad system deserved much of the credit that went to the Internet in the nineties. The internet merely ushed in a new way to order things -- the de-regulation of the railroad industry, allowing the merger of trucking and rail companies, was a significant factor in the great decline in transfer costs. That journalists, who are much more likely to hang around a computer terminal than a railroad depot, pumped the Internet as the miraculous offspring of Gutenberg and Jesus Christ shouldn't surprise anybody. After all, when Time was portentiously summing up the century in 2000, it somehow overlooked almost everything that had happened in agriculture during the last one hundred years -- for instance, the invention of artificial fertilizer, which has had much more effect on our lives than, say, the rocket or the modem.

So what is Snow's background? This report on the Rail industry,
Railroads at a Crossroads: Time for a New Business Model?

by Steven Ryder and Jay Frazier

is a nice place to start. If, indeed, deflation is the phantom menace around the corner, Snow must have caught the fatal intimations at CSX.

One of the puzzles of economics is the continuing belief in the myth that "corporate capitalism", to use Snow's term, is the best way to efficiently distribute investment. If one looks at the amount invested in fiber optic wire in the nineties, compared with the amount invested in reworking railroad track in order to make a faster system, it is easy to see that corporate capitalism is not driven to invest in those things which will ensure long term profit, but in those things that promise some kind of short term pay-off. It is all a matter of being convinced that there is, indeed, a short term pay-off -- which is the task of those drudges in the Biz journalism racket who mindlessly report the forecasts of the bought and sold in pages meant for the guileless. Rationally, the investment should have been in creating the kind of transportation network that would reinforce just in time manufacturing. The key stat from Ryder and Frazier is this:

"...railroads remain as a low-cost service provider. The operating cost of a railroad easily undercuts its competition in bulk freight surface transport. Shippers who choose to route freight by truck rather than by train typically pay a 25% premium in price. The dramatic rise in oil and energy prices will further magnify this cost advantage for rail. "

That premium, remember, exists in spite of the considerable support given by the State in the form of a highway system that is built and maintained with tax money. As a transportation mode, railroads, with their much greater carrying capacity and their potential, given the tracks and the equipment, to achieve greater speeds than road based vehicles, should have been the recipient of heavy investment. However, it is impossible for the American mind to get itself around the idea that railroads aren't something obsolete, out of a cowboy movie.

CSX, after taking over Conrail, spawned a protest site -- CSX sux. Why it sux isn't exactly clear on the site -- there is a gabfest of disgruntled employees, and there is some news about nuclear materials run by the company. Frankly, the site looks inward, to who did what in the Montgomery station at 2 p.m. on February 15th. However, the nuclear materials story definitely deserves some press play -- although we doubt anybody is really going to look into it in the big newspapers. Lately, the news has been Bush's party.

Monday, December 09, 2002


The Patriot game

Lately there has been a lot of, to LI�s mind, rather unseemly genuflecting to the American flag on the part of a group in the left press that apparently entertains the fear that honorable goals, such as economic justice and anti-belligerence, are being undermined by a googley eyed gang of flag burners. We have little patient with the thesis that America is the Great Satan; on the other hand, when lefists get chummy with the tropes of jingoism, we look for the exits.

Dissent recently published an essay by Michael Kazin, an editor, entitled �A Patriotic Left.� This is an excellent example of the neo-Popular Front in the age of Bush. Kazin has a good time sporting in progressive cant. You know the variety: You call for some moderate objective in the most bloodcurdling ultra rhetoric. After the writer is finished, you are supposed to count the silverware in the silverware drawer, to see if any of it has been expropriated by the masses. Since the rhetorical style at Dissent is fatally oriented towards what was hip when Sidney Hook bought his first Flivver, you get bizarre tirades against �cosmopolitanism.� It turns out that patriotism and cosmopolitanism are deadly enemies, in Kazin�s mind:

�In daily life, cultural cosmopolitanism is mostly reserved to the rich and famous. Radical environmentalists and anti-IMF crusaders seek to revive the old dream of internationalism in a version indebted more to John Lennon's "Imagine" than to V. I. Lenin's Comintern. But three years after bursting into the headlines from the streets of Seattle, that project seems stalled indefinitely in the Sargasso Sea that lies between rhetorical desire and political exigency.�

Wow. If the rich are for it, I must be agin� it � I suppose that is the response Kazin wants to induce in his readers; who will then form a posse to string up the varmints. However, LI rather likes those rich who are cultural cosmopolitans � are we talking about Gertrude Stein, here? Well, we are very fond of her. As well as Henry James, John Lennon, and the rest of em. The Frankfurt exiles � just loved those guys! Dutch architects and radical Italian fashion divas � love and kisses, guys and gals.

However, we have our doubts that this class of the rich and the famous actually still exists. Maybe some relics can be found in Tangiers. We live near the border with Mexico, and have found a lot of non-rich'nfamous cosmopolitans. For instance, the sons and daughters of Mexican migrants � or even Mexican migrants themselves, who cross the border to see the family on holiday occasions. They speak Spanish at home and in the street, they make meals that will, no doubt, eventually grace the tables of the the rich and famous (oh, please, please, let us get within rubbin', pick pocketing distance of the rich and famous) with a plethora of unpatriotic ingredients -- chiles, cilantro, or that displacement, to the Puritan mind, of chocolate from the frivolity of pastry to the sober thighs of chicken � mole, in short. Mostly, they are stalled indefinitely in the Sargasso Sea � of credit card debt.

However, just because the Left Patriot side is represented by Kazin�s risible New Masses rhetoric doesn�t make LI want to abandon patriotism to the New School rubes. For the next two posts (approx.), we want to look at Coleridge�s Patriotism � that is, we want to look at how Coleridge transformed himself from a Romantic Jacobin to a Burkean conservative around 1800 in the pages of The Morning Post � and John Stuart Mill�s idea that patriotism is a necessary adjunct of social stability, which, we believe, was probably influenced by Coleridge�s example. Coleridge gives us a sort of emblem of the career of the British intellectual, with its stages -- the romantic enthusiasm for Revolution with its aesthetic root -- the confrontation with the accidents and barbarisms of a real revolution � thebeing absorbed in that confrontation to the extent that the sense of the barbarism of tradition, the continuing structures of oppression, begin to blur � and the ending up speaking for the worst Tory elements � the jingoists, the theocrats, the belligerents, the fatuous defenders of massive economic injustice, etc. etc. Even as we speak, this pattern is being etched in the diatribes of Christopher Hitchens, who is floundering, rather sillily, to find some third, past reference in whose career he can justify his vain attempt to make consistent his past and present stands. Orwell, his choice, is perfect because he was cut off before he could really crawl into the carapace of crankdom that closed around Koestler. Orwell seems wrong, to us, for C.H.'s quest. Hitchens should touch up on his Burke and Coleridge � much more logical intellectual antecedents.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

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