Wednesday, July 16, 2003

THE PROBLEM WITH PRAGMATISM: More on the topic (already covered on this site [sory -- permalinks bloggered -- scroll down to Monday June 30 for links in question]) of Hans-Georg Gadamer's behaviour under the Nazis.
The picture presented is of an apolitical man devoted to advancing the cause of learning -- and, in order to do so, also the cause of his own career; and if doing so meant lecturing in a way that pleased the Nazis, or attending indoctrination camp, or taking the positions 'vacated' by Jewish colleagues -- well, who was Gadamer to complain?
Not much of a man, apparently -- that's who.
The defense offered by Gadamer's biographer, Jean Grondin, rings hollow to me. Grondin is quoted as saying: "He [Gadamer] wanted to promote philosophy, poetry, his love of the Greeks. You could show you were not a Nazi by giving classes on Rilke, or by refusing to participate in the usual Nazi 'racial studies.' Gadamer kept his distance, but he also had a sense of what was doable. That could be seen as a political virtue. Today we'd call it pragmatism."
Well, lecturing on Rilke seems a pretty ineffectual way of showing you're not a Nazi. Not that I'm against lecturing on Rilke, mind you, but I don't think that's sufficient for a clean bill of moral health when one's living under one of the most brutal and fiendishly irrational and bloodthirsty regimes in history (now, if he had lectured on Rilke while hiding Jews in his attic, THAT would have been admirable.) If this is pragmatism, then my reservations about pragmatism are confirmed.
That said, the charges of Gadamer's critic, Richard Wolin, ring a bit hollow -- or, no, they don't ring hollow; they clang too loudly. Wolin claims: "In Gadamer's case, though he wasn't a Nazi, he willfully played along with the regime, which, practically speaking, was in many ways just as bad ...Subtract the tacit support of the Gadamers of the world, and Hitler and company would never have made it."
Well, there's a good point here about the sins of passivity; and the question about whether passively allowing crimes to be committed, and being the person who commits them, is one that's bothered me for a while, and the answer to which I don't claim to know. But my first inclination on reading Wolin's statement is to say -- hold on a second. Is playing along with the regime -- that is, doing nothing to resist it -- REALLY as bad as inspiring your students to a feverish pitch of ecstatic collectivist hysteria or encouraging them to go out and beat up Jews or burn books? Seems to me there's an important moral gap between the two sorts of behaviour - even if the former is far from admirable or proper. And would Hitler and co. really never have made it without the tacit support of the Gadamers of the world -- or would there just have been many more people in the concentration camps?
Focussing on the evils of passivity -- and on passive evil -- is important in guarding against complacency and reminding us of our ability, and thus responsibility, to resist evil. As such, it is salutary and correct. But we mustn't let it blind us or make us underestimate the power of active evil, or underestimate just how hard such active evil is to resist.
So, I agree that Gadamer's behaviour under the Nazis was pretty craven, and worthy of condemnation. But I think that we also have to guard against too-great self-righteousness in passing judgment on a man in a very difficult situation -- a situation we don't face, and one which, if we do think about it, we have to acknowledge presented those facing it with a very difficult choice -- and a very unsatisfactory range of options from which to choose.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

HAIL THE CONQUIERING HERO??? And so the idealisation/iconisation/deification of Gen. Welsey Clark begins. Even the usually hard-to-impress Eric seems to be succumbing. I'm witholding judgment, for the time being; when both my Lefty and my neo-con friends scoff at someone (as they have at Clark), I'm not sure whether to take this as a sign that no sensible and informed person would take said someone seriously -- or that said someone is actually a sensible man (or, as the case may be, woman).
And, thus far, I don't see much in Clark himself to sway me one way or the other.
I am given pause though by the fact that, so far as I know, the last time the Dems thought the way to the Whitehouse was to nominate a military leader for President was back in, what would it be, '48?, when they considered drafting Eisenhower (see the account of it in the first -- and thus far only published -- volume of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr's autobiography, A Life in the Twentieth Century).
As we all know, Ike did indeed wind up being elected President -- as a Republican. Clark seems to actually be close to the Dem's positions on the issues -- at least the issues we know his opinions on -- so he's less of an ideological cipher than Ike was, and drafting him may therefore be a more reasonable idea.
Well, we'll see ...

MUST READ: I haven't had the time to carefully read or think about this article; but when I first glanced at it, it struck me as really good - indeed, one of the best I'd read for a long time. Go check it out; I'll try to post thoughts on it as soon as I have a chance.

AH, THE FAIR ELM CITY: Don't worry, Jacob -- anti-Zionism and affection for the Mullahs aside [NB: that was a joke], you're always welcome to a place on our footon -- assuming Eric isn't using it after being locked out again.

FAMILY VALUES IN ACTION: With all due respect to one of the best e-mail correspondents ever, I disagree that this sort of thing would drive away a family audience. Not my family, at least.
And think of all the adolescent boys it could attract ...

Monday, July 14, 2003

LEWIS COSER, RIP: A great scholar and a great intellectual (a social role about which he wrote one of the best, most enduring studies -- Men of Ideas); a refugee from the Nazis, a sometime Marxist, and a champion of democratic, anti-Communist socialism who co-founded Dissent (which, in my opinion, remains one of the liveliest, most thoughtful and most humane intellectual-political publications in the US) -- Lewis Coser was one of the greats. With his death, we lose one of the few surviving members of an extraordinary generation of intellectuals -- immigrants, or the children of immigrants -- who brought a new and unique passion and breadth of knowledge to American (and to some extent British and French) intellectual life -- a generation the likes of which we're unlikely to see again; more's the pity for us.
The NY Times has a skimpy, inadequate obit, with a nice picture at least; the Boston Globe's obit at least gives some sense of the man, even if its treatment of his work is also pretty brief and bare.

PIGS: This is appalling; I feel terribly for Maria -- and for all the other women, all over the world, who have to put up with this sort of shit.
It does raise the question though: are the French particularly bad when it comes to crude and menacing piggishness? I can attest to similarly rotten behaviour on the part of many Americans and Brits, but I've never been a bystander to anything quite this relentless or blatant, so far as I've noticed, and I haven't heard about such awful experiences from my female friends. Is this because they're just used to it, and don't mention it? Or do women in Paris have it particularly bad? (Similarly, I recall reading reports a couple of years back about an 'epidemic' of gang-rapes of young girls by adolescent males in depressed suburbs of Paris. Again, is this a pathology particular to present-day French society, or certain segments of it? Or does this stuff go on a lot of places, and for some reason -- maybe because so many people hate the French anyway -- we hear more about it when it happens in France?)
More pressingly: what, exactly, can be done about this?

OBJECTION TO JACOB OF THE DAY: My dear friend and occasional punching-bag suggests that Pat Robertson -- who is, happily, being disowned by many evangelicals for his abhorrent and demented vision of the world (see Jacob's post for some of his juicier statements -- though not, alas, his declaration that 9/11 reflected God's judgment on America, and NYC specificaly, for godlessness and moral turpitude) -- remains supported by 'Zionist Jews'.
First of all, does this mean that only Jewish Zionists like Robertson, while other Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israel don't? I tend to doubt that that's true, but if Jacob knows something really counter-intuitive that I don't ...
The main beef, though, is that Jacob should have said 'certain Right-wing Zionist Jews'; as it stands, his statement is yet another example of the (UN-approved) mis-use of the word Zionist to denote only one, particularly un-attractive, strain of Zionism.
And, as a 'Zionist Jew' who doesn't like Pat Robertson -- or, for that matter, Ariel Sharon, or Binyamin Netanyahu, or Yitzak Shamir, or Menachem Begin, or Vladimir Jabotinsky, etc. ... I find it a little irritating when opinions I despise and deplore are attributed to me, or associated with a movement to which (or to a certain vision of which) I'm devoted.

BLINDSPOT SPOTTED:Reader MT has asked me why I haven't been posting on what I for one am going to start calling Nigergate -- the suggestion that the Bush adminstration and its British allies either forged, or more likely realized but remaind silent regarding the inaccuracy/fradulence of a document from Niger purporting to show that Saddam Hussein was trying to get urnanium for the manufacture of nuclear arms.
I haven't written about it because I don't know enough to venture an opinion. More specifically, I've been distracted by the demands of moving back to the US for the summer and beginning to teach political philosophy in the Yale Summer Program (more on which experience at some point ...), and so have been following the news less closely than I ought, and am out of the loop about pretty much everything, with the possible exceptions of the Supreme Court's rulings, Iran, and Liberia (about which I feel I ought to say something. So, here it is: I think we ought to send troops there as part of an international peace-keeping force, and that we should pressure Charles Taylor to resign and move to some island on the way to which he will hopefully be seized and dispatched by an angry mob. There; that's my unconsidered, visceral opinion). Also, from what little I have seen/heard about Nigergate, I just don't think I know or can know what the truth of the matter is -- that is, to what the Bush administration and Blair government knew, and to what extent they deliberately misled the public; and until I think I know more, I don't think it's right for me to venture an opinion -- especially since the point in question, whether the President of the US willfully and knowingly lied to the American people, is such a grave one.
So, I'm suspending judgment, and it's expression, right now. But, do check out Brett Marston's latest post, as well as just about every post Josh Marshall's done lately, for more on this topic.

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