Friday, July 15, 2005

THE VOICE[S] OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHERS IN THE CONVERSATION OF CYBERSPACE: When I was an undergraduate, among the classes I took (Yale being the benighted, unphilosophical place that it is) were a very interesting, even exciting, seminar on Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott, and Isaiah Berlin (which, given the last names of its subjects, I took to thinking of as the SOB seminar). I've recently discovered that, as it happens, not only did Strauss, Oakeshott, and Berlin have talks they gave recorded (this is not so surprising, given that all lived at a time when sound-recording was widespread and readily available -- unlike, say, Kant or Hume or Marx -- that Oakeshott and Berlin were well-known speakers who were called upon by the BBC during its zenith as a provider of culture and wisdom to the masses, and that Strauss ... well, Strauss had a cult following, so to speak, that recorded him); not only do all three have websites devoted to them; but those websites include extracts from those recordings. So, you can listen to a very little bit of Strauss here, a bit more of Oakeshott here and here (with info on the talk from which the excerpts come here, and a whole lot of Berlin here (or here, if you have a slower connection; there's also a video clip of Berlin, delivering a talk over BBC radio in 1959, here).
On a personal level, it's interesting to note that the quantity of the recordings of each thinker seems roughly commensurate with the degree to which I'm in sympathy with each (though not necessarily about the particular things that they're saying). I also think that Berlin has the most appealing voice of the lot -- not surprisingly -- though, once one's gotten used to his voice, Oakeshott's delivery has it's undeniable appeal.
Anyway, none of these clips throws any light, so far as I can tell, on the thought of any of these figures -- though they do, in some cases, perhaps explain something of each thinker's appeal and influence in his own lifetime. And, for political theory geeks, they're fun.
Now, if only I could find some recordings of Hannah Arendt and Raymond Aron and Judith Shklar ...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

MORE ON LONDON: I've shot my own bolt, so happily have no more to say on my own part. But there are a few links worth looking at:
This captures the spirit of defiance which I tried to indicate below. Crude, yes; but it does capture what I think the general reaction of the British to the recent terror attacks has been and will be. And thank god for that.
This also mentions defiance, but paints a fuller picture of London immediately following the attacks. If the mood in London has been like that of Oxford, it would seem to be accurate (only in Oxford there hasn't been any change at all, just business very much as usual). It's interesting to note that some of what's described -- the increased niceness and concern for others -- sounds very much like the transformation of NYC after 9/11, even while other facts and impressions reported seem quintessentially British.
This, from Crooked Timber, nicely states my own emotional reactions to the pieces described; I'm glad I don't have to try to. (My less emotional, more intellectual, reaction is that we probably should face the fact that, while it would be monstrous to blame London or the British Muslim community for events that have been deeply harmful to both, the rise of militancy and support for terrorism in some, I like to think marginal, segments of the British Muslim community is a problem; and that, where you have a large Islamic population, you'll probably have terrorists taking advantage of that population to hide out among them. The damage that the terrorists do to their fellow Muslims, as well as the grotesque mockery they make of Islam, are among the crimes for which they, and they alone, should be abominated).
One problem I have with the whole London-as-hotbed-of-Islamicist-terrorists theme is the danger of an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Asian backlash in Britain, which there have already been some signs of (reported here, and here) although I hope and trust that such outrages come from a small, marginal group of people. On the other hand, there have been some sympathetic and balanced report on the early impact of these events on the British Muslim community (see this, and, from the NYT, this very sympathetic article.)
Attacks on Muslims, and tout court criticisms of the Muslim community, are unjust, and usually bigoted and stupid. They also are profoundly dangerous, not just to the victims of such attacks and targets of such criticisms, but to attempts to fight terror. The Muslim community in Britain has a difficult task ahead of it: identifying , condemning, and weeding-out the cells of hatred that attack it from within, as cancer cells attack a body. It's ability to do so will be profoundly damaged if it is subject to racist attacks from without; it's ability to teach its children tolerance and immunise them against the lure of separatist hatred will be severely hurt if those children feel themselves to be bearing a brunt of hatred and injustice. It is natural, when one feels oneself attacked, to lash back. There is a danger that some in Britain will do so against Muslims, and that some Muslims will then do so against their fellow Britons -- and so it will go on. Never have tolerance, mutual respect, and civic solidarity been more needful. Britain has had a proud tradition of exhibiting all of these values in the past; and I think it will continue to do so. And I hope I'm right about that.

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