So perhaps due to some testosterone deficiency connected with aging, I’ve found college football pretty boring in recent years. BUT I did watch much of the Alabama-Auburn “Iron Bowl” yesterday. It’s sobering to know that the location of football excellence in our country–with the exception of FG kicking–is now in the particular state of Alabama. And never before has one great coach made so many errors concerning basically less than one second of one game. It was genuinely a astonishing–because far from miraculous–ending to a quite singular contest. Fans of Ohio State and such have to admit that the only REAL national championship game would be a rematch.
To ascend to an infinitely higher level of profundity and wonder, our friend Ivan the K has written a brilliant review of the work of Chagall singularly illuminated by the particular concerns of the philosopher and Jew Leo Strauss. Here’s a taste:
It’s important to note that Chagall’s absorption of Christian memes wasn’t meant to demonstrate an infatuation with Christians, per se. In fact, he was resentful of what he saw as their passivity when confronted with incontrovertible evidence of the Holocaust. In a speech he delivered in 1944, Chagall forcefully related his consternation: “But, after two thousand years of ‘Christianity’ in the world—say whatever you like—but, with few exceptions, their hearts are silent…. I see the artists in Christian nations sit still—who has heard them speak up? They are not worried about themselves, and our Jewish life doesn’t concern them.”
In order to understand Chagall’s reliance upon Christian categories to universalize the plight of 20th-century Jews, it’s important to situate his own experience as a Jew within its proper historical context. Judaism struggled to fix its identity in the aftermath of the German Enlightenment, which reduced religion to one private pursuit among many. “Religion” came to be defined in Protestant terms, a private, individual enterprise with non-political but universal significance. In contrast, Judaism was traditionally typified by its public character, as a politically charged practice for a particular nation of elected people. The challenge for Jews was to divine a way to preserve their distinctive Jewishness—their ineradicable particularity—while also laying claim to universal significance. The Jewish people were charged with maintaining their status as a people set apart while simultaneously affecting their assimilation into modern society. The history of Judaism’s fractured permutations in the 19th and 20th centuries—Reform, Orthodox, Hasidism, Zionism, etc.—is the history of its attempts to square this circle and gain full admission into modernity.
There is, of course, much to be said about squaring the circle. The discouragingly ineffective use of Christian imagery to appeal to the Christian heart is touching beyond belief, as is every modern effort to understand particular persons nonpolitically or universally. For Walker Percy, it’s the invincible particularity of the Jews that remind us of the untruth of every form of modern science, of the self-denial of every form of radical assimilationism. For Strauss, being a philosopher and a Jew means, I think, having two incompatible identities. But for the Christian, the personal LOGOS allows us to think of particularity and universality to be features of the same whole, relational, but deeply non- or transpolitical person.
Anyway, thanks to Ivan, now I have reason to take Chagall seriously, despite being aesthetically challenged enough in many ways.
One of loyal readers wants to play this game. How many of said movies have you seen? Which have most stayed with or influenced you? (That’s not quite the same as which are objectively the best.)
My quick answers. About 90–in a few cases I’m not sure. AND: FERRIS BUELLER, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, BACK TO SCHOOL, RISKY BUSINESS, VALLEY GIRL, SIXTEEN CANDLES.
So, in the interest of delaying real work, I’m continuing my tour of THE NEW REPUBLIC. Here’s another illuminating article. Gladwell contributes to our democratic denial of personal sovereignty by reinforcing the ridiculous idea that “the studies”–what social science says–can give us not only data and all that but inspiration and practical guidance. The result is a mixture of scientism and moralism that produces a denial of tragedy, that does nothing to illuminate the true greatness and misery of being human. Although all postmodern conservatives already knew that, it’s always great to read someone not of our tribe railing against the expert mixture of scientism and moralism, which is, after all, the religious foundation of Silicon Valley fake libertarianism. It’s also great to be reminded, of course, of the genuine moral authority of Vaclav Havel, who actually knew something about the true power of the seemingly powerless, which is the willingness to risk everything in the service of truthful responsibility.
Read this incisive article. Does anyone with any sense really believe that our “deal” with Iran will do anything of consequence in slowing its progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons? Its effectual truth is to make things easier for Iran on the sanctions front and the international “legitimacy” front. Meanwhile, it surely has made Israel more desperate, convinced that it has no choice but to go it alone–and soon. If one of our goals is to keep other nations from engaging in recklessly self-destructive behavior, hasn’t our president “sent the wrong message” about our nation’s intentions–not only to Iran and Israel but to all the other relevant nations? In general, I admit to being pretty clueless about what to do in the Middle East. But what not to do is sometimes very clear.
So congratulations to Pete for taking the lead in explaining why the Democrats’ semi-abandonment of the FILIBUSTER was stupid and will probably benefit the Republicans over the long term.
Randy Barnett, for one, cited Pete as the expert on this issue. Randy, like most libertarians, has defended the filibuster over the years as yet another counter-majoritarian check in our system. The filibuster results in fewer LAWS (meaning less tyranny), and certainly sometimes has produced more DELIBERATION.
On the other (and more important) hand, the abandonment of the idea of the filibuster will facilitate Republican majoritarianism, if and when that party gains control of the presidency and the Senate again. That means, of course, more libertarian (or, even better, originalist) members of the Court. So far, of course, Supreme Court nominations aren’t cover by “the Democratic power grab,” but there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be soon.
Let’s face it: The FILIBUSTER isn’t in the Constitution. The Senate is supposed to be deliberate, thinking long-term because of the senators’ long terms. But it’s also supposed to be majoritarian. And that means, in today’s context, Obama’s judicial nominees should be confirmed.
It’s true that the Court is much more ideological than the Founders had in mind. That’s because it’s been politicized by judicial activism in the service of using the 14th amendment to transform state law. The liberals are ideological. So too are libertarians like Randy. Even the more properly restrained forms of originalism are bones of theoretical contention.
That’s just the way things are these days. So the Republicans should be just as aggressive as the Democrats in campaigning on controlling the presidency and the Senate in the service of transforming the Court. And, as has often been pointed out, the Republicans have been lesss resolute than the Democrats in using the filibuster to block appointments by their ideological adversaries. The Republicans have erred even more greatly by not making the Court a key campaign issue.
The filibuster can be defended as a way of facilitating compromise. But in a democracy, legislative majorities shouldn’t have to compromise with legislative minorities. And there are other checks actually in our constitutional system for slowing down or moderating change we don’t believe in.
Elections should have consequences. And both parties should mainly be about winning elections.
Kuttner, an old-fashioned progressive, big-government liberal, said that the Democrats missed a big opportunity in 2008. Due to the mainly Republican missteps, there was a moment when progressive reform could have, once again, become change we can believe in. What we needed was a new Social Security or Medicare, a public program publicly adminstered. But instead we got the monstrous and unworkable public-private hybrid that has discredted the progressive moment. It’s time to do something quickly! Otherwise, the Republicans, despite their unpopularity and lunacy, will quickly and underservedly return to power.
Under Obama, progressivism hasn’t been discredited. It really hasn’t been tried.
Well, that’s true, in a way and to a point, when it comes to Obamacare But the votes really weren’t there. In terms of getting something passed, the progressive Democrats did the best they could. It was so hard to get it passed that they didn’t have the leisure to think much about whether it would really work.
Now, as has been pointed out in our threads and elsewhere, it’s not like there are enough votes for single payer. And, for now, there aren’t the votes for some Yuvalian alternative. Maybe there will be after the election of 2014. But I sort of doubt it. And, in any case, there’s the presidential veto.
In terms of public support, the progressive blip on the radar is over. But Kuttner isn’t alone in being at a loss for a plan that will help us right now.
We can repeat Pete and other wise men by saying that the conservatives have to think about mending–not ending–our entitlement system, with the demographic imperatives in mind. Government shouldn’t either take over or withdraw entirely from the health-care business. It helps no one to say that the welfare state is unconstitutional or that its collapse is imminent. Nevertheless, the long-term issues are huge and pretty intractable without a lot more statesmanship than we’ve seen so far.
So the big question for my TECHNOLOGY class this week is whether the book (and the idea) of THE BRAVE NEW WORLD is likely right about the chief danger facing us in our increasingly biotechnological future.
Ben Storey, a student of Leon Kass, told us last week at Berry College that Leon thinks so, while I have a different opinion.
You may have noticed that I also have a different opinion than many conservatives about Tocquevillian SOFT DESPOTISM as a highly plausible prediction about the future of our techno-democracy.
SOFT DESPOTISM and THE BRAVE NEW WORLD aren’t so different as descriptions, except the latter employs biotechnology or genetic engineering (and a drug) as indispensable ingredients for the achievement of highly intrusive regulation of basically subhuman contentment.
A Tocquevilian might say that “democratic restlessness” is evidence that our souls have needs that can be denied or distorted but not destroyed. But natural restlessness or alienation, we seen in the BNW, can be engineered out of existence, except as a possibility for the few bred to rule. Residual moments of alienated confusion among the many can be drugged out of existence.
There is a tendency today to think of biotechnology as a way of achieving contentment or serenity now, mainly through mood control. But the far stronger tendency is to think of it as a way of achieving real success in pushing nature back with the indefinite pereptuation of particular persons in mind. We in our caffeinated society think of alienation as useful in fending off all those forces out to take ME out.
But someone might say, as we did last week, that we can see a particularly disgusting version of THE BRAVE NEW (LIBERTARIAN) WORLD in Tyler Cowen’s new book, where most people just keep getting dumber and are placated by various on-screen entertainments and legal marijuana.
So what do you think about the likelihood of the coming of A BRAVE NEW WORLD?