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Showing posts from February 27, 2022

Different kinds of crazy: the centrist version of history

  The center-liberal view of resistance to vaccines in the pandemic has rested on what it thinks is a rational view of history: the government is basically looking out for the people and rarely ever lies or misleads in its larger policies. I found a perfect expression of this in, where else, the NYT, in the “ethicist” column. In that column, some clueless type asks a question and the ethicist answers it. The question this time is one of inheritance – which perks up the ears of the country club set that runs the nyt – with the questioner thinking of disinheriting his daughters who have become rightwing anti-vaxxers. In response, the ethicist fabulates a response beginning like this: “Back in the  late 1960s, when the “generation gap” gained currency, many families were divided over political questions, involving the Vietnam War, women’s rights, racial justice. Facts were relevant to these disputes, but at the heart of the matter were moral questions — e.g., When is a war just? Shoul

the decline of the laugh

  Jean Fourastié was one of the architects, in France, of the thirty glorious years of the postwar economy. He had reformed, or advised on the reformation of the French social insurance system in the thirties, and after the war he wrote optimistic books about the new world opened up by the consumer phase of capitalism. His predictions about the rising level of lifestyle seemed to be on target in the fifties and sixties, but somehow, Fourastié fell off the optimist wagon as he observed what consumerism had wrought – not a leisured and cultured working class in tandem with a leisured and cultured administrative class, but a mad rush towards disposable products and lifestyles that, in his view, had lost sight of, or even jettisoned, the volupt é of satisfaction for the addictions to second degree wants that were manufactured by a new class of capitalist. The large mark of that turn was everywhere – in the environment, in the cultural impoverishment of non-urban areas, in the way in which

War and loot

 I wrote this piece under Bad King Bush and his occupation of Iraq. I think it is ever so relevant now. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, William Hazlitt produced a polemic in his highest style that presented the classical liberal way of looking at war in an essay entitled “War and Taxes”. He begins with the distinction between productive and unproductive labor, and proceeds to show that war falls under the latter category. However, even if a project is unproductive, it must be paid for somehow. It has a cost: “If the sovereign of a country were to employ the whole population in doing nothing but throwing stones into the sea, he would soon become the king of a desert island. If a sovereign exhausts the wealth and strength of a country in war, he will end in being a king of slaves and beggars. The national debt is just the measure, the check-acount of the labour and resources of the country which have been so wasted – of the stones we have been throwing into the sea. This debt is

From Herzen to Lenin and beyond: national self-determination (or how to think about Ukraine)

  In 1914, there was a dispute between Rosa Luxemburg and V.I. Lenin about the proper revolutionary view of the right to self-determination. Luxemburg dismissed the aspiration for independent statehood as a mask or strategy for maintaining bourgeois domination against the working class. She deduced from this that nothing was gained if, for instance, Poland became independent of Russia and regained its autonomy. Nationalism, for Luxemburg, was a trap and a bauble. Looking back, Luxemburg’s position must have arisen not just because of her theoretical take on internationalism as the necessary precedent of a communist revolution, but also because of her experience in a Germany that had only recently unified and that was filled with an excessive nationalism, an emotional attachment to German power (as embodied in the military) that was dangerous and antithetical to the Socialist Democracy ideal. Lenin, on the other hand, had a strong sense of Russia’s imperialist role in subordinating