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Showing posts from July 17, 2005

what is it like to be a voter?

I am, stripped of a few eccentricities, a Keynsian liberal. However, I think liberalism's attempt to shake the existential edge off politics is futile and ultimately damaging. The left, when it is healthy, and the right, when it is not, both know that politics is all about dread and ecstasy. That politics might be an existentialist errand is very much part of what I take to be the salient characteristic of contemporary election-based democracies. To get to that characteristic, let me quote a recent comment to one of our posts by Kmort, and then let me tell you why I believe his point is misguided: “The Rousseauian impulse is I believe a big problem of yankee politics. Populism is as bad for authentic liberals as it is for the more intelligent conservatives. With a few higher standards for voting--say basic reading comprehension test at the polls (I would say ex-felons who pass it should be permitted to vote) or a college-degree requirement think of how much more accurate and meanin

bloodsucking for fun and profit

Sometimes it is nice to see the face of the virgin in a gimme cup. And then, sometimes it is nice to see the face of Satan in a NYT article. The article in question is about Costco. Costco is famous for paying its CEO a reasonable salary, as such things go, and doing the same for its employees. The latter policy has pissed off certain Wall Street poobahs. Emme Kozloff, for instance : “Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco's workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent. "He has been too benevolent," she said. "He's right that a happy employee is a productive long-term employee, but he could force employees to pick up a little more of the burden." And here is a Deutsche bank hoodlum: “Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an

a monument to all fictional victories

There’s a nice article by Matthew Neujahr in the April Journal of Near Eastern studies about an odd Persian text called the Dynastic Prophecies. What is odd about the text is the account it gives of the war between Alexander the Great and Darius III. As all historians know, Alexander defeated Darius, pillaged his capital, and advanced to the boundary of India. But this is what the Dynastic Prophecies have to say about what all historians know: “The most remarkable element of the passage follows: according to lines 13-17, the defeated Persian king retools his army and then defeats the Macedonians! The bald inaccuracy of this account is all the more striking in the face of the historically accurate, and occasionally quite specific, accounts contained earlier. (13) The text is further complicated by the fact that, following this account, the first six preserved lines of the final, fourth column (after which the composition proper ends) are divided into three sections by two horizontal lin

cornpone warmongering

In Morley’s biography of Burke, there is a nicely painted scene depicting Burke at the height of his power and madness. It was shortly after the execution of Louis XVI. Morley, we think wrongly, claims that Pitt was wrongfooted by the execution, since the public mood turned belligerant in France. This is part of the larger version, in which Burke had finally succeeded in stirring up reaction in England to the point of violence. This is Morley’s account: “It would be a great mistake to say that Pitt ever lost his head, but he lost his feet. The momentary passion of the nation forced him outof the pacific path in which he would have chosen to stay. Burkehad become the greatest power in the country, and was in closercommunication with the ministers than any one out of office. He wentonce about this time with Windham and Elliot to inform Pitt as to theuneasiness of the public about the slackness of our naval and militarypreparation. "Burke," says one of the party, "gave Pitt

Burke and the appearances - the center will not hold

“… in an hundred instances, the Interest of our Empire is scarcely to be reconciled to the Interest of our Constitution.” Burke on India In ‘The Context of Burke’s Reflections’, David Bromwich emphasizes how important to Burke’s notion of legitimate order was the metaphor and fact of theater. You could put it in Kantian terms: what is it in society that makes it possible to have dramatic interests? That question, although seemingly merely aesthetic and marginal, sinks a shaft that hits the center, insofar as that center is human nature itself. That nature is not repressed by society, but enlarges its primitive instruments in society, bending the sentiment of awe to the ritualized appearances of legitimate power, which are in turn linked to hierarchies spread throughout the social scale; and thus giving to the carrying on of the business of society its deep and fundamental dependence on inequality. This is the natural piety upon which the social has its only legitimate foundation. In Bu
When the forefathers were gluing together this nation, they were careful not to make it easy to conduct a war. It was by this time a wellknown political maxim that the executive branch used war to encroach on the rights of the people. The Federalist papers were much concerned with war. Jay, in Paper 3, made it an argument for a national government that the best men from every state would be attracted to the national government, and that thus the best men able to judge the reasons for and the conduct of, if necessary, war. Hamilton, in no. 6, includes a list of wars that reflect the indulgence of tyrannical rulers: “The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentment of a prostitute, [1] at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished, and destroyed the city of the SAMNIANS. The same man, stimulated by private pique against the MEGARENSIANS, [2] another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution with which he was threatened as an acco