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Showing posts from June 19, 2005

indignatio continued

The tumblers were falling into place in 420 B.C. At least, according to Laurence Lampert’s excellent analysis of the dialogue known as Hippias Minor in the Spring 2002 Review of Politics. The Review definitely has a Straussian tinge, but sometimes LI likes the odd faith that close reading of ancient texts will give us political redemption. In the Lesser Hippias, Socrates’ antagonist is Hippias, an Elian sophist and politician. He has come to Athens to participate in the ninetieth Olympiad, in which the Elians were managers of the game. Lampert emphasizes a Thucydidian aspect of Hippias’ presence in Athens: “More important, however, than the coming Olympics for the Lesser Hippias is the diplomatic conference for which Elis presumably sent Hippias to Athens. That conference had been arranged by the rising new force in Athenian politics, Alcibiades, the young Athenian to whom Socrates had devoted such close attention more than a decade earlier.( n7 ) Alcibiades had arranged the congress

the politics of apologize

Cato wrote a book entitled Indignatio. Typical of him. I’m with Robert Graves about Cato: he was a complete Roman prick. His nightmarish obsession with exterminating Carthage was quoted for almost two millennia as the model of patriotism, which just shows you that there is a lot of psychosis at the heart of Western civilization. The authoritarian personality was obviously alive and well in the ancient world. Such a mean, limited spirit would naturally be attracted to the rhetorical mode in which resentment is most at home. Indignatio has always been particularly dear to American political types. Liberals get goosebumps thinking of Joseph Welch asking Joseph McCarthy if, at long last, he has no shame. Nice shot, but since McCarthy had pretty much succeeded in exterminating the impulse to form labor or socialist parties in the U.S. – parties that were once as much a part of our culture as the Republican or Democratic party – I’d give the points to McCarthy. Indigatio, at best, is the los

Ah, the smell of the new order in the morning

In 1948 my Daddy came to the city Told the people that they'd won the war Maybe they'd heard it, maybe not Probably they'd heard it and just forgot' Cause they built him a platform there in Jackson Square And the people came to hear him from everywhere They started to party and they partied some more 'Cause New Orleans had won the war (We knew we'd do it, we done whipped the Yankees) --Randy Newman LI has spent a lot of time in apparently silly mooning over American and Iraqi casualties. We are assured, today, by the Secretary of War that the pie is getting bigger in Iraq. Happily, Rumsfeld’s remarks simply amplify those of this year’s winner of the Lincoln Steffens Award . Steffens was the man who went to Stalin’s Russia, I believe in the year of the first terror famine, and came back to the U.S. to proclaim, “I have seen the future and it works.” Karl Zinsmeister, a much less distinguished journalist – indeed, his obscurity is entirely proportionate to his mer
Dick Durbin is the Democratic Senator and toy balloon from Illinois. Last week, it was toy balloon day in the Senate. All the Democratic Toy balloons could “squeak up” – as the phrase is on the construction paper placards tacked to the corkboard in the Toy Balloon caucus. They could say that they wanted to stay the course, to reform social security, to support the patriot act, and to make this a more Christian country too – but say it in a moderate way. This way, the toy balloons can show they have new ideas. New ideas are so cool. Durbin was so filled with the hot air that lifts little toy balloons up that he stumbled onto a truth: that the U.S. is routinely using torture. He compared this to another truth – in big bad countries, the names of which are even known by U.S. citizens who’ve had most of the past cleared out of their minds by taking history classes in high school, they also used torture. Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia. Toy balloon Durbin certainly should have hushed his valv
Why have I never read T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars before? This is obviously the summer to read it. It isn’t written in cinemascope, and Peter O’Toole doesn’t star in it. Actually, it is more like the English equivalent of the advice from the guerilla war experts to come – Giap or Mao. Lawrence thinks through the way to fight an organized state enemy in the desert on behalf of a non-organized entity, vaguely given the title of the “Arab Revolt.” I am sure his thought processes have gone through the minds of the insurgents in Iraq, unconscious as they no doubt are of the precedent. Lawrence figures out how to make a strength out of weakness – out of the inability to give battle. ‘We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of the vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves till we attacked. The attack might be nominal, directed not against him, but against his stuff; so it would not seek either his strength or his weakness, but his most accessible material.” For Lawrence, ra

bolivia and the dirty dream

There is the American dream and there is the dirty American dream. The latter has been generally maintained by subaltern torturers and Fort Benning alumni in Central and Latin America. So we find it entirely appropriate that Rumsfeld is considering moving General Ricardo Sanchez to the command of the American army’s Latin division. Sanchez’s wonderfully innovative practices in the fields of German Shepherd unleashing, heart attack induction, and forced orgies has, after all, made Abu Ghraib a byword of America’s solidarity with the freedom lovin people of Iraq. And the Bush administration’s management strategy of promoting those who’ve done the most damage to America’s interests and prestige to ever higher posts made it Sanchez’s promotion almost inevitable. Latin America has been stirring beneath the American dirty dream. This must worry the Bush people – this is a white house staffed, after all, with men and women who, in the eighties, rubbed epaulets with Ollie North and various co

the metaphysical roots of the Bush culture part 2

To take up the threads from our last post – Simmel writes about the benefits that arise from an apparent weakness of the tertium figure. The weakness is the inability to preserve the aura of sentiment around a idea. Nietzsche might well call this the leveling effect of the mediating figure – the ignobility that comes from the economic moment, the transformation of an idea into a unit of exchange, rather than an indescribable moment of power. The power, the “mana”, the Ur-generosity, is systematically sapped from the inspiration. It is disgraced – that is, it no longer is in the order of grace, but of reason; and by and by gives rise to a system of substitutes that refers, always, to some primitive leader or utterance. The inspiration is delegated, but not completely lost. Such delegative structures often generate myths of return – the return of Jesus Christ, the return of the literal Constitution, the return of pure socialism, the return of family values. The third party becomes the im

The Metaphysical Roots of the Bush culture

An article by Joseph Nocera in the NYT profiles the very deserved fall of Morgan Stanley’s CEO, Philip Purcell, as a case study in the image deflation of the tough CEO. The first graf of the thing caught LI’s eye: “BACK in the 1980's, Fortune published a feature called "America's Toughest Bosses." Donald H. Rumsfeld made the list one year (he was running G. D. Searle). So did legendarily crusty executives like Robert Crandall of American Airlines ("has a towering temper and swears a lot"), Frank Lorenzo of Texas Air ("not trusted inside or outside the organization") and Harry E. Figgie Jr., chairman of the manufacturer Figgie International ("really abusive - the Steinbrenner of industry").” This mention of Rumsfeld got us thinking about the divorce between competence and success that is an often noted aspect of the Bush administration and can be extended to the whole Bush culture. By this, we mean the media, the official opposition, Wall