Saturday, November 15, 2003

ISRAEL: AN ALTERNATIVE? There's an interesting exchange over Tony Judt's controversial article from the NY Review of Books a few weeks back in the current issue, available online here. There's a good deal of sharp writing and argument; all of those involved seem awfully sure of their own positions, and all have some piercing points to make against alternative views. My own sympathies are, not surprisingly, most with Michael Walzer, who I think very effectively picks out all of the weakest parts of Judt's article and shows, very plainly and sensibly, what's wrong with his proposal, effectively tearing it to shreds. But each contribution does deserve perusal.

TOP MARXISTS RESULTS: Drum roll, please. And now for the moment we've all been waiting for: the results of the greatest Marxists poll.
First, though, a big thank-you to everyone who sent in their nominations, and to those fellow-bloggers of mine who linked to and publicized this.
And, second, a word about how I came to the rankings below for those who are curious, and those who might wish to quibble. I awarded each nominated Marxist a number of points from 1 to 10 depending on what number that thinker had been assigned in the nomination -- so a Marxist listed as number 1 on a contributor's list would get 10 points, the second pick would get 9, etc. I then added to each Marxist's total the number of nominations, in addition to the first one, that Marxist had received; so, for instance, Rosa Luxembourg -- who received the most (10) nominations -- got a score of 86, to which I added 9 points to reflect her popularity, thus giving her 95 points in all. I had also considered getting the average ranking for each Marxist, and then adding the number of nominations to that; but this required a lot of additional calculating, and didn't seem to me to be an inherently better way of doing things. (I did try it for the top 10; the results were largely the same, except that Mandel wound up in 10th place rather than 7th. Those of you who think Kautsky, Che, or Lukacs better than Mandel can therefore choose to regard this as the correct ranking.)
I didn't factor in my own rankings, which I've divulged separately, at the end of this post.
When two or more nominees got the same score, I gave them the same ranking (I generally tried to list them in roughly chronological order, but didn't always.) I wound up ranking every single nominee I got; so what follows is a list of, actually, readers' top45 Marxists, with rankings up to 21st place. (This will give you, sympathetic reader, an idea of how exciting my Friday nights are. Sigh.)
Ok, and now for all of you who've been impatient for the results, here are the top 10 (well, actually 11 thanks to ties) Marxists according to my readers:
1. Rosa Luxembourg (95/86)
2. Lev Davidovich Trotsky (75/68)
3. V.I. Lenin (72/65)
4. Antonio Gramsci (53/48)
5. Theodor Wisengrund Adorno (28/26)
6. Friedrich Engels (27/25)
7. Mao Tse-tung (19/18)
7. Ernest Mandel (19/17)
8. Karl Kautsky (18/17)
9. Gyorgy Lukacs (16/15)
9.Che Guevera (16/15)

Several things are notable here (and borne out by the rest of the list to a large extent). One is, of course, Luxembourg's overwhelming popularity. Another is the trend towards selecting figures who were both theorists and activist -- appropriate for a phenomenon which was at once a political movement and a theoretical position or tradition, and one which, furthermore, believed in the unity of theory and practice. Another interesting thing is the relationship of this list to the debate, which has been going on over at Crooked Timber, about the moral implications, even legitimacy of this list -- that is, the charge that Marxism, because of Communism's crimes, is in itself immoral and therefore to talk about greatest or favourite or top Marxists is akin to praising or favourably ranking Nazis. Now, several things can and have been said to this (by me, among others). One is that, while Marxism and Communism are indeed inextricably tied, and in evaluating Marxism we have to recognize this, and consider what it was and is about Marxist theory that made it such a fertile inspiration or justification for murderous inhumanity, Marxism and Communism are distinct, there have been many non-Communist and indeed anti-Communist Marxists who have been in no way inhumane or brutal. The other point is, of course, that greatness and goodness aren't necessarily the same; that calling a Marxist great, or rating him or her highly, can be a way of indicating one's judgment of his or her (and, by the way, the number one person on the list is a woman -- but she's the only woman on the list; no Clara Zetkin, no Krupskaya, etc. And the feminist-Marxist August Bebel also failed to make the list)
I think that the top 10 list will have to rest on an appeal to the second argument, since, by and large, it does follow and support the identification of Marxism with Communism (though not necessarily Bolshevism). The majority of those in the top 10 did advocate violent revolution, and 5 of them either engaged in, or attempted to engage in, such revolution; I would consider two of them -- Lenin, in spot 3, and Mao, at 7 -- to be mass-murderers, and two others -- Trotsky and Che -- to have engaged in and been implicated in considerable brutality. On the other hand, one unquestionably significant Marxist, who was quite as historically important and effective as Lenin or Mao and was hardly if at all more brutal than the latter, is notably absent from, not only the top 10, but the top 21/46: Josef Stalin. Yet Stalin dictated Marxist doctrine and Communist policy, on the part both of the first and major state to be avowedly devoted to Marxism and the international Communist movement that Marx himself founded, longer and more completely and, arguably (but I'd be willing to make the argument), more decisively than any other single figure.
So what we see here, I think, is an attempt to either sanitize Marxism, or, put more sympathetically, to reconcile Marxism to humane moral standards, which only goes part way: certain monsters are excluded -- Stalin, Pol Pot -- while others retain a distinguished place, such as Lenin and Mao. The best rationale for this I can think of is theoretical: Lenin, Mao, and Trostky all did develop important variations on or interpretations of Marxist theory, while Stalin and Pol Pot didn't. And Trotsky at least was a pretty good writer, which, given the bookishness of most of our voters, is a big plus.
Still, worth thinking about.
The other notable thing is that third-world Marxism has declined somewhat in popularity since the high tide of its popularity in the 1960s, but does hold on in the persons of Mao and Che. Also, there are no Americans on the top 10 -- nor indeed anglophones. This reverses itself for the rest of the list: there are a number of anglophones, but only, so far as I can tell, one further third-world-er. Theorists continue to predominate, to an even greater extent perhaps, and more non-Communists or non-Bolsheviks make a showing. As, indeed, do some democratic socialists who I don't consider to be Marxists at all; I've kept them on the list, but put them in brackets, indicating my opinion that they shouldn't be on the list at all (but if someone wants to make the argument that they were, in fact, Marxists, I'll gladly remove the brackets if convinced)

10. Marcuse (15/14)
10. Alexander Dubcek (15/14)
11. C.L.R. James (14/12)
12. James Connolly (13/12)
13. Louis Althusser (11/10)
13. G.A. Cohen (11/10)
14. Eduard Bernstein (10)
14. Walter Benjamin
14. Victor Serge (10)
14.Jean Baudrillard (10)
15.Franz Mehring (9)
15 Hal Draper (9/8)
15 Ali Shariati (9)

Here we note both theorists and activists/politicians; both Frankfurt schoolers (Marcuse), post-modernists (Baudrillard), and analytical Marxists (Jerry Cohen -- the one person on the list, incidentally, whom I've met. Incidentally, I think that there are 4 living figures on the total list, though I may be missing someone). We also, thankfully, find non-Communist theorists and anti-Stalinist Communists (Bernstein, Serge, etc.) Such trends continue.

16 Gyorgy Plekhanov (8)
16 Karl Korsch (8)
16 Max Shachtman (8)
15. Eric Hobsbawm (8)
16. Marshall G.S. Hodgson (8)
17 Eugene V. Debs (7)
17 Andre Breton (7)
17 J.B. McLachlan (7)
17 Simone de Beauvoir (7)
17 Paul Mattick (7)
17 Milovan Djilas (7)
17 Norman O. Brown (7)

We finally get to some historians, which will hopefully reassure Chris Bertram somewhat, though I agree that it's too bad that there's only 1 -- James -- in the top 15.

18 Isaac Deutscher (6)
18 William Morris (6)
[18 Bernard Shaw (6)]
18. E.P. Thompson (6)
[18.Michael Harrington (6)]
[18.Philip Randolph (6)]
[18.Bayard Rustin (6)]
19. Imre Nagy (5)
20.Sebastiano Timpanaro (3)
20.. Robert Brenner (3)
21. Daniel De Leon (2)

All in all, a most interesting list, I think.
And what of me, you might ask? Well, whether you do or not, I'll tell you.

I originally made several lists: of my own 'top' 10 Marxists, that is, the ones I find most compelling and sympathetic, and who have done the most to make me, as an anti-Communist and a non-Marxist, take Marxism as a theoretical position seriously and regard it, in some cases, sympathetically; of Marxist historians whose work I've been influenced or inspired by; of the 5 Marxist/Communist political leaders I think most significant; and of the 10 Marxist theorists I think have been most significant. I've scrapped the last, since I don't think I know enough to really judge; and I don't think I need give the full list of political leaders -- suffice to say, Stalin made it on because I do regard him as, after Lenin and beside Mao, the single most significant Communist political ruler; and so did Gorbachev. Given the poor showing of historians on the list, and Chris's complaint about this, I will give the historians list, eccentric as it may be:
1. E.P. Thompson
2. Christopher Hill
3. Boris Souvarine
4. Georgy Plekhanov (more a philosopher of history and historian of ideas, and as such still worth reading)
5. Perry Anderson

And now (second, quieter drum roll), my own top 10:

1.Eduard Bernstein
2.Edward Abramowski
3. Erich Fromm
4. Boris Souvarine
5. David Riazanov
6. E.P. Thompson
7. Milovan Djilas
8. Alexander Dubcek
9. Julius Martov
10 Rosa Luxembourg

Jean Jaures would have made it on in first or second place, but I'm still not sure whether I regard him as a genuine Marxist, or not; advice on this appreciated. I do think Abramowski can be considered a Marxist of sorts, though he did admittedly travel far from Marxism, and wound up embracing something like anarcho-syndicalism politically; he was also a major theoretical opponent of Luxembourg within the Polish socialist movement; I think he was right. His attempt to combine a version of Marxist sociology, Kantian philosophy, and a social psychology that would take into account the influence of material arrangements, the subconscious, and the individual's own moral beliefs, character and ideals, is quite interesting, and seems to me the sort of thing worth doing, whether or not he succeeded (for which I can't vouch one way or the other)
As for the others, Luxembourg herself needs no introduction nor explanation. Julius Martov was a leading Menshevik who was described by one Bolshevik leader as their 'most sincere and selfless opponent'; he stands here for all of the Mensheviks who sought to save both Russia and Russian Communism from the blight of Bolshevism. Dubcek, similarly, makes the list in part as a representative of those Marxist liberalizers within Eastern Europe who sought to loosen the grip of Communism through reform -- and in the process were crushed with varying degrees of brutality (Dubcek was rather more fortunate than others, such as Imre Nagy). Djilas, too, was a sometime Communist -- and at one point a most effective, that is, brutal one -- who turned against the system when he recognized its evil, and became one of the most effective and tireless Marxist dissidents within the Communist-controlled world; his book The New Class was a spot-on analysis and critique of the betrayal of Marxist ideals by 'actually existing socialism' in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and is still worth reading today. David Riazanov was a Narodnik and then a Bolshevik who was appointed head of the Marx-Engels (later Marx-Engels-Lenin) Institute in 1920; under his directorship, the Institute engaged in remarkable scholarly activities. He was a tireless, enthusiastic, courageous man, who was willing to voice his own views (which were often close to those of the Mensheviks); not surprisingly under Stalin he was dismissed and imprisoned several times, eventually dying there. Boris Souvarine was a sometime leader in the French Communist party who had been expelled for left deviationism in 1924 and become a moderate socialist, and an analyst of and researcher into Communism; he founded the Institute for Social History in France, and collected much important material and published many analyses of the USSR and its satellites.
Erich Fromm sought to develop a psychologically libertarian humanism out of the (to my mind, less than promising, though far from worthless) materials provided by Marx and Freud; he's my favourite of the thinkers associated with the Frankfurt school, and, I must admit, the only one whose work I have much understanding of and who has influenced me.
As for Eduard Bernstein, the founder and leading theorist of Revisionist Marxism: his analysis of Marx's errors of prediction and theoretical weaknesses still seems to me among the best, and absolutely spot-on; and his is, I think, the most convincing and appealing attempt to retrieve what is of value in Marxism and incorporate it into a political programme and theoretical program worthy of success.
Anyway, that's just my view of course.
Many thanks, again, to all who have participated in a most diverting and, for me, informative little exercise. And now, I really should get back to work -- or out of the house.

KVETCHING, II: It's looking increasingly like the Bush administration is planning to 'cut and run' on Iraq -- turning power over to the Iraqis before they have a constitution or a fully-functioning and stable government.
God. What idiots.
I do hope that the administration won't actually cut and run; but I find such a hope increasingly hard to nourish off of reality. So, for the moment, I'm just going to assume the worst (which in the past has rarely been a mistake regarding this administration). And rant accordingly.
I'm afraid I'm too upset about this to offer a cogent explanation for why I think this is a stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible, dishonourable, ignoble, dangerous, heartless, gutless, immoral idea.
I'll say this, though. I've been continuing to hope that this whole adventure -- for such it now appears to have been -- might have ultimately turned out well; that the war wasn't simply a mistake or a bamboozle, that the Bush administration, for all its faults, would ultimately be forced to do something at least vaguely resembling the right thing. I therefore was critical of what I regarded as the excesses and injustices of the anti-war movement, and sympathetic to and even defensive of apologists for the war; I was even, albeit warily, pro-war, though never pro-Bush, myself.
I now think I was wrong about all this; very wrong. I'm not about to go out and embrace ANSWER (who remain Stalinist schmucks); nor do I wish to deny that the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, in itself, a great and good moment for human freedom.
But this is unconscionable. And if, as seems far from unlikely, the Bush administration -- out of considerations of their own political advantage -- lets Iraq either fall back into the hands of the Ba'athists, or into those of Shi'ite clerics, or into chaos and civil war -- well, then, I think the whole thing will be unjustified.
But even if the Iraqis are able to pull their country through this -- and I ardently hope they will -- any inclination on my to give the Bush administration any benefit of the doubt over anything is, from this point forward, utterly lacking. And if the Bushies are looking for liberal patsies to justify their senseless, self-serving, disastrous, pathetic excuse for a foreign policy -- they'll have to find someone else.
No great loss for them, of course. I can only hope that some of my fellow 'liberal hawks' -- and the rest of the American people -- also experience a rude but necessary awakening regarding the utter worthlessness of this administration before next November.
UPDATE: My sometime student and now reader HD points out that, while the Bush administration is now rushing to turn power over to the Iraqis regardless of where they are in 7 months, they're not talking about actually pulling out of Iraq, and have indeed stated their intention to retain troops there for a while yet. Which is quite true; I was upset by this, and over-reacted, and over-stated things. But it does seem to me like this reflects a wavering of the President's commitment to doing a proper job of seeing through democratic nation-building in Iraq, and is another instance of the administration changing course, largely, in my reading, due to political considerations. But, we'll see; hopefully my despair is indeed ill-founded.

CLARK: A SECOND LOOK. My friend Rob has e-mailed me in response to my despairing and critical words about Wes Clark, below, by pointing me to this piece by Matt Yglesias alledging that the author of the piece, Peter Boyer, is a right-winger with an axe to gring, which in turn points to this by Fred Kaplan, disputing Boyer's account of Clark's involvement in Kosovo.
Now, this is certainly cause for reconsidering my harsh judgment of Clark, although that judgment wasn't based only on Boyer's article, but on Clark's recent political actions and his character insofar as I can evaluate it from those actions. That Clark can be stubborn and un-open to advice -- major liabilities for a democratic politican -- also seems to be demonstrated by this report from Nathan Newman (thanks to my friend Jacob for the link). And Clark's recent political decisions don't inspire a lot of confidence.
Still, if Boyer's piece really is unfair and inaccurate, I'd be willing to seriously consider Clark as a desirable candidate again. However, while I do think the Yglesias and Kaplan articles make a number of telling points, I'm not entirely reassured. I don't know that defending Howell Raines or going after Clinton is necessarily proof of a right-wing agenda, as Matt seems to. Matt also claims that Boyer's article doesn't quote Richard Holbrooke; it does. And Matt portrays Boyer's profile of Mel Gibson in the New Yorker as favourable; but I read that piece, and thought that it did a very clever job of giving Gibson enough rope to hang himself with; to me he ultimatley came off as a self-righteous, dogmatic, somewhat disturbed religious maniac.
Which does suggest that Boyer does enjoy taking people down a peg. But it doesn't suggest right-wing bias.
As for Kaplan's piece, he makes several argument or statements that I find less than reassuring. First, he suggests that the self-assurance evinced by Clark is typical of high-ranking generals. Maybe so; but that doesn't make it a good thing in a politician -- or a President. (Indeed, it seems to me that we're currently seeing just how much damage a surfeit of unearned self-righteousness can do). Kaplan also allows that Clark did make mistakes in his estimation of Milosevic's likely responses, but points out that, hey, he's only human. Which is true. But in interviews and profiles that I've seen, Clark has claimed, or been credited with, an uncanny insight into his opponent. Yet, if Boyer's account gets the facts right -- and on this at least, Kaplan admits that it does -- it seems that Clark actually miscalculated regarding Milosevic's reactions -- while maintaining, to this day, that he 'knows' Milosevic in some uncannily incisive way. Finally, Kaplan excuses a press conference Clark gave, which Boyer harps on, as 'impolitic', but honest. Well, for a general that may well be admirable. But for a politician, a tendency towards 'impolitic' press conferences is, well, kind of a liability.
Let me be clear: I'm not suggesting that Clark is a bad guy. And I think that, ultimately, Boyer -- if he is indeed pursuing an anti-intervention-in-Kosovo vendetta -- is wrong, and Clark right; and Clark's determination in pushing for intervention, and his succesful prosecution of it, make him a genuine hero.
But being a hero and being a good presidential candidate -- or a good President -- aren't necessarily the same thing. And without wanting to diminish Clark's claims on the one count, I also don't want to be seduced by those claims into over-estimating him on the latter counts.

Friday, November 14, 2003

MARXIST POLL ABOUT TO CLOSE: In 2 1/2 hours. I hope to announce the winners, and also-rans, tomorrow.

NEW BLOGGING VENTURE -- for me, at least. I've recently joined the fine and lovely folks who make up the Nathan Hale Society in their ongoing discussions of finternational affairs and foreign policy, and consequently have access to their blog, here. I don't expect I'll have all that much to contribute -- actual international affairs, as opposed to ideological responses to international affairs with which I disagree, not being something I have all that much to say about, and certainly little to no expertise on -- but if I do manage to come up with anything valuable to say, it'll probably turn up over there. And, of course, you should go check out the posts by the many brilliant young minds involved in Nathan Hale, which include not only wide-ranging and incisive reflections on many facets of international relations from several rising stars, but regular updates on events and job openings in the study of foreign affairs courtesy of the tireless Mr. Belton. So please do go check it out; it must be among the worthiest ventures I've ever found myself, even tangentially, involved in (which is damning with faint praise I know, but still ...)

COOL! I belong to that 10% or less of the Volokh Conspiracy's readers who's very excited indeed by the news in this post by Jacob Levy. I'm going to have to get me a copy.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

GLAD TIDINGS: Guiness -- or stout generally -- really is good for you, apparently; it helps to reduce clotting that leads to clogged arteries, and thus to the risk of heart disease. (News courtesy of Chris Brooke, to whose health I'll have to drink soon, thus improving my own ...)
The neatest tidbit of the article, though, is this:
In England, post-operative patients used to be given Guinness, as were blood donors, because of its high iron content. This practice continues in Ireland.
Now this is interesting. Sounds like it might be a good idea to combine that blood donation I've been meaning to do with that trip to Eire I've been meaning to take...
On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be sufficient evidence for the claim that beer is rich in vitamins. Ah well. Can't win 'em all.

MARXIST POLL, PART III: Over at Waldheim, my friend Jacob offers his pix for and reflections on for the top Marxists poll. Jacob raises some definitional issues that have been raised elsewhere. So, I'll try to clarify somewhat -- as I no doubt should've done earlier.
I've already noted that identifying someone as one of one's 'top' Marxists can be either an estimation of intrinsic historical importance or theoretical value, or an expression of personal liking or respect or indebtedness.
The question of what 'Marxist' means is somewhat more difficult, for me at least, since I want it to have greater specificity than 'top'. But it's not so easy, as Jacob notes:
"What does "Marxist" mean? Once a Marxist, always a Marxist? Once associated with the American Communist Party, always a Marxist? If one declares oneself to be a Marxist-Leninist, is necessarily a Marxist? What if one disclaims Marxism, but Marx's influence is detected? Words, roots of words, sometimes in Latin; these are the things I have to think about."
(Props to Jacob for managing to work in a reference to one of the greatest movies, ever.)
So, here's my response:
A Marxist means someone who either him or herself claims to be thinking or acting in the tradition and political/theoretical movement inaugurated by Karl Marx, and whose work, ideas, or actions give some reason for believing this; or whose ideas clearly closely follow or have been decisively influenced by Marx. It does include those who have been denied the label Marxists by others; the poll doesn't come down on either side of the Bolshevik/Menshevik debate, or that between the Revisionists and more orthodox Marxists, or Marxist-Leninists and gradualist or parliamentarian Marxists, or Euro-Communists and, um, non-Euro-Communists.
On the other hand, the definition used for the purpose of this poll excludes socialists who didn't claim to be Marxists, or whose ideas diverge significantly from, and seem to owe very little, or at least very little of positive value (that is, as opposed to reactions against) Marxist doctrine. It also only includes those whose Marxism was significant to their main political or intellectual achievments or actions. So, it does include some of those who ultimately rejected Marxism, but who made their major contributions to history or thought during their Marxist period, or whose major contributions were to the Marxist tradition itself; but it doesn't include everyone who flirted with Marxism or Communism at some point, but later either renounced it or merely became indifferent to it. (For all of these reasons, I feel I can't accept Jacob's nomination of A Philip Randolph, who so far as I know was a non-Marxist socialist, and am somewhat dubious about his inclusion of Bayard Rustin: Rustin was indeed a Marxist and indeed a Communist at one point in his youth, but I'm not sure if he continued to believe in or be guided by Marxism later. I'm also somewhat dubious about the inclusion of Jean Jaures, who would almost certainly top my own list if included. Jaures certainly was a deeply important, and in my view positive, force in the 2nd International; but what Isaiah Berlin has called Jaures' 'generous, all-inclusive, democratic, unfanatical humanism' doesn't seem to me to have been wholly or significantly Marxist. But I'm open to persuasion by those better informed about Jaures' relation to Marx and Marxist doctrine.)
So, I hope this clarifies things a bit. And keep those nominations coming! Polls close, probably, Friday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

KVETCHING: Ok. This isn't going to even pretend to offer intelligent or balanced commentary. This is merely going to be a venting of my spleen. Apologies to any readers, who should feel free not to read on.
It isn't a fun moment to be a Democrat.
Looking at the contenders for the Presidential nomination, I find myself going through an endless cycle, going from candidate to candidate, being briefly positively impressed and then getting thoroughly disillusioned, going on to look at another candidate who seems to be better ... and eventually being disappointed there, too.
Dean, Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman, Gephardt -- I've briefly felt drawn to each (though I've never thought that either Lieberman or Gephardt would be a truly viable candidate), and I've invariably been turned off. I now feel thoroughly unenthused about each, but will probably continue to flit from one to another. (I recently played the 'Whack-a-pol' game over at Slate. I kept winding up with no candidate I could support. Is it really so much to ask for a candidate who's both strongly pro-gay-rights and supported the administration's proposed aid package for Iraq? Apparently so.)
One person who's just about dropped off my list of possibilities, though, is Wes Clark.
I was never really on the Wes Clark as the Dem's/country's saviour bandwagon. But I did have some hopes, and I was open to the idea that, with his military record, his experience with and record of support for humanitarian intervention, his unquestionable brilliance, he might be a good thing -- both electable, and capable of leading the US through a dangerous situation.
But, so far, his campaign has been pretty weak. His foreign policy pronouncements seem to me a confused mess. His current position on Iraq seems to me scarcely distinguishable from Dean's (I may be wrong here, but that's the impression I get) -- but Dean at least has been consistent about it. He's also reported to have come out in favour of an anti-flag burning amendment, which is really disturbing, especially in a Democrat. But then, there's reason to wonder just how much of a Dem Clark is.
And then there's this New Yorker profile of Clark. It is not reassuring. One of Clark's main selling-points has been his handling of the war in Kosovo, which has been portrayed as both a political and a military victory on his part. But Clark comes off as rather less sure of judgment and effective in the article than he's often portrayed. More disturbingly, though, is how sure OF HIMSELF he seems to have been. The article, which as far as I can see seems to strive for accuracy and doesn't have any strong animus or agenda that I can detect, suggests that not merely self-assurance, but positive arrogance, is a key feature of Clark's character. So is ambition.
Even if this is somewhat unfair, I don't know that I want to support a candidate who comes across this way to so many colleagues and to a reporter who apparently spends a lot of time with him.
Now, I do think that Clark was right, and those who opposed him over Kosovo, and later quite shamefully sacked him, were wrong. But the article suggests that a President Wes Clark would press ahead with what he thought was right regardless of the advice of others, and not be able to admit to any mistakes or change course if things went badly. And, in these uncertain times, that could be a very dangerous way to lead indeed.
So, what now? I don't know. I mean, I'll most likely vote for anyone the Dems nominate against Bush, barring Sharpton and Kucinich. But I'd like to feel rather happier about doing so, and to feel like others might also do so, than I can with any of the candidates on offer at the moment.

MARXISTS UPDATE: My innocent idea of having a poll of top 5 Marxists continues to generate far more thought, blogging, and controversy than I'd ever expected or intended. The comments in response to Chris Bertram's post over at Crooked Timber have slowed down their accumulation rate, but are still coming last I checked. Chris Brooke has posted an able reply to Chris Bertram's criticisms of his picks. Finally, Norm Geras -- a comment of whose inadvertantly started all of this -- has a new post up on his responses to this contest, which Norm seems to be taking more seriously than I'd intended. Norm is bothered by the fact that I didn't allow Marx himself in the polling. This is not, as I facetiously mentioned, because Marx once said he wasn't a Marxist; I don't believe this for a moment. It is rather because I think Marx should clearly be in any top-five list, and indeed should clearly be numero uno, and I suspected that most would agree. So that allowing him would limit the number of more interesting and obscure figures included on the lists (the inclusion of whom was a goal of mine; and it has indeed been one of the, for me, most interesting and rewarding parts of the polling so far), and would also make the contest for number one slot less exciting, since I do think he would've been a shoe-in -- whereas as it is, we currently have a really close 3-way race between Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxembourg for the top spot. Norm also complains of the difficulty of having to pick five top Marxists. I'm absolutely sympathetic on this -- and I don't object to accepting lists of more than 5 (some of which I've received). I would prefer to draw the line at 10, but will accept more -- with the understanding, though, that only the top five figures voted for are likely to be in the running for the final list. (Though I'll be mentioning the runners-up too).
Norm also says some words on what he means by the term 'top' -- those Marxists from whom he's learnt the most and who made the greatest impression on him-- and this seems a good definition to me. For my own part, in thinking about my own possible list as a non-Marxist (indeed, an anti-Marxist) I've adopted a similar, but necessarily slightly different, defintion of 'top': in my case, it means those Marxists who, through their writings or other actions, have done the most to make me respect Marxism as an intellectual position and tradition, to take it seriously and recognize that there is something of validity and importance to be taken -- or, if you prefer, salvaged -- from it.
Related to this, and at the risk of making something that was supposed to be a fun, light exercise far more serious and drearily moralistic and preachy than it should be, I'd just like to add this one thought. It seems to me, looking at debates in the blogosphere and the academy alike, that, despite the presence of many admirably open-minded and thoughtful and curious people, all too often one sees an awful lot of dogmatism, a lack of generosity (and humility), a partisanship and intellectual parsimony in which those with whom one disagrees, ideologically or philosophically or methodologically, aren't given a hearing, aren't appreciated for any value they, or validity their ideas, might have -- a situation, in short, in which partisanship reigns, and acts as an effective barrier to genuine understanding and truly free thought. And this seems to me terribly unfortunate.
I'll admit to being guilty of this tendency myself all too often, and this has in the past certainly been the case with Marx and his many followers (something that I only really realized and started to try to rectify over this past summer, when I was teaching Marx and therefore felt I needed to read and present him more sympathetically than I had as a student -- and found myself being most impressed, if not convinced, by even his lesser writings). So the intent and design behind this poll -- largely subconscious I think, and in addition to sheer amusement value -- has been as a way of getting myself to engage more with the Marxist tradition, a prompt to learning and thinking more about it and its many, varied exemplars, and an opportunity to have contact with those who still think with or within that tradition.
So, keep them votes coming. If the submissions halt, I'll announce the winners on Friday; if I'm still getting submissions close to that deadline, I'll extend polling to Sunday, and make the announcements Monday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,--
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
('Anthem for Doomed Youth', Wilfred Owen, born 1893, killed in action 4 November, 1918)

Sunday, November 09, 2003

FOR WHICH THEY SERVED: David Aaronovich has written a really remarkable Remembrance Day column, which manages to perfectly balance a moving evocation of war's horrors and sorrows with awareness of the horrors and sorrows which it sometimes takes war to end. Very few of us are able to keep both of these realities foremost in our minds at the same time; all the more reason to read Aaronovich's column.

PLEASE READ: Tim Burke has an outstanding set of reflections on some of the problems of contemporary American society, as reflected in the experience of a trip to two Philadelphia childrens' science museums. Well worth all of the praise lavished on it by Russell Arben Fox, through whom I've (belatedly) discovered it.

VIRTUAL CONFERENCE-GOING: A new advantage of the blogging revolution has appeared: detailed, blow-by-blow accounts of academic conferences. In this case, Larry Solum has a remarkable and extremely valuable, as well as somewhat formidably extensive, set of posts up on a Rawls and the Law conference at Fordham that he attended (start here and scroll up). We can all be very grateful to be able to get an idea of the conference's proceedings (which included a keynote by Ronald Dworkin, and a talk by Thomas Nagel, two of the greatest if not the greatest living philosophers working on the philosophy of law), without having to take the red-eye along with Larry.
Who knows; perhaps this will usher in a new era of online conference-going. There's a lot to be said for this, although there's also something terribly poignant in the thought of conferences thinning-out as people stay home to get the news on the 'net.

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